The current polarization is not healthy, particularly in a delicate phase when the fight against COVID-19 requires unity. This is the reason why the EU has encouraged the ruling coalition to reach out to the whole of society and put European agenda reforms, particularly in the area of the Rule of Law, at the centre of its programme – Sem Fabrizi
The EU continues to assist Serbia in the fight against the Coronavirus, which is why the EU will finance the engagement of an additional 200 doctors and medical staff in hospitals across the country over the next six months, announces the Head of the EU in Serbia, Ambassador Sem Fabrizi.
Addressing the multiple requests, both from Serbia and from EU member states, that Brussels provides a more direct declaration regarding the state of democracy in Serbia, Ambassador Fabrizi tells CorD that Serbia is already subject to an enhanced process of monitoring and reporting on the rule of law. Progress in this area, or the lack thereof, will be a subject of the European Commission’s annual report, which is being prepared for the autumn, adds Fabrizi.
Your Excellency, the EU has adopted its budget for the next seven years. How do you see the outcome of that EU debate, which lasted five days and was dramatic in some segments?
The result is truly remarkable for many reasons and in many ways historic. It is an unprecedented reaction to an unprecedented challenge. It is a clear sign that solidarity is part of our DNA. It is a clear sign of the EU’s resolve to move forward and emerge from this crisis stronger. It is a response to all the professional doomsday sayers that depict the EU as blocked and unable to take important decisions.
The package adopted is unprecedented in size, comes at the right moment, and addresses the right objectives: to protect our economy and set the trend for future growth. It also introduces, for the first time, an agreement on the common issuance of debt: ‘economic recovery with European solidarity’.
EU financial support for accession will produce all its intended results once we see the implementing of the accession reforms for which the funds are designed: modernising public administration, reforming the taxation system, public procurement, state aid and competitiveness
It comprises a seven-year budget worth 1.07 trillion euros, and a 750-billion euro Next Generation EU package against COVID. Of course, the negotiations were complex in these difficult times. It took time to reach unanimity, but it was ultimately a transparent, democratic and future-orientated marathon that ended in a positive outcome for all 27 member states, and especially for the people.
The package aims to support recovery from the crisis by having a vision for our future. The key elements will be centred on the Green Deal and digitalisation, in order to boost jobs and growth and strengthen the resilience of our societies. The European Parliament will also have to approve it.
This is also a good deal for accession countries like Serbia, which will benefit from a stronger EU economy and from substantial funds for assisting the enlargement policy.
The IPA fund, designated to help the EU accession process, stands at 12.5 billion euros. It is more than the 11.7 billion euros from the previous period but less than the 14 billion originally proposed by the European Commission. Considering that, just like EU member states, candidate countries from the Western Balkans face an unprecedented situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, do you think the level of the IPA fund will be sufficient for the next seven years?
The IPA resources in the EU’s 2021–2027 budget are substantial. The amount represents an increase compared to the previous period. Accession Countries will also benefit from other EU programmes in areas like education and science, plus other financial instruments that have a global application. The complete financial and policy implications will be clearer once the package has gained final approval. The increase in IPA funds is a clear and concrete signal that the EU enlargement policy continues.
I would also add that the EU is already working hard to support Serbia’s economy during COVID, particularly in helping small and medium-sized enterprises.
An immediate package of 93 million euros was earmarked for Serbia: 15 million for the immediate medical response, which has already been spent; 78 million for ongoing support to the economy
This May we fast-tracked 70 million euros of the 2020 IPA programme for economic and social recovery in Serbia, while the second tranche – worth 98 million euros – will be agreed later this year.
EU financial support for accession will produce all its intended results once we see the implementing of the accession reforms for which the funds are designed: modernising public administration, reforming the taxation system, public procurement, state aid and competitiveness. These reforms will ultimately help boost Serbia’s economic recovery.
The EU has pledged 3.3 billion euros to the Western Balkans to help overcome COVID-related economic difficulties. When do you think we will receive more details about that arrangement?
This was indeed the strong commitment made at the Zagreb (video) Summit on 6th May. The EU decided to mobilise 3.3 billion euros for the Western Balkan region for COVID-related responses through a range of financial instruments and policy initiatives, including IPA funds, Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA) and assistance from the European Investment Bank. An immediate package of 93 million euros was earmarked for Serbia: 15 million for the immediate medical response, which has already been spent; 78 million for ongoing support to the economy.
The EU has already spent 15 million euros in Serbia on medical assistance. Could you provide more details about the intended engagement of an additional 200 medical workers from EU countries in Serbia, in order to help tackle any new wave of the pandemic?
Once Serbia witnessed a new surge in cases of COVID-19, the Government requested EU support for front-line medical personnel. In response to this request, the EU decided to finance the hiring of 200 Serbian (this is an important element of the support) health workers (medical doctors and technicians, as well as administrative support staff) for a period of six months, until the end of 2020. The personnel will support institutes of public health, primary health care centre COVID clinics and key Serbian laboratories.
the EU decided to finance the hiring of 200 Serbian (this is an important element of the support) health workers (medical doctors and technicians, as well as administrative support staff) for a period of six months, until the end of 2020
This should be seen as one element of broader efforts to assist. In fact, since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in March, at the request of the Serbian government, the EU provided 7.9 million euros to fund the transport costs of 15 cargo planes that landed at Nikola Tesla Airport carrying over 721 tonnes of medical equipment procured directly by the Serbian Government from different parts of the world. The first flight landed on 26th March and the last one arrived on 3rd May.
Moreover, the EU provided 4.9 million euros to fund the purchase of additional material, including 800,000 protective medical face masks, 300 infra-red thermometers, 100 stationary oxygen concentrators; 50 respirators and 100 triage containers distributed in front of major Serbian health facilities.
We also gave additional support to vulnerable communities, including senior citizens, women, Roma communities and migrants.
How would you assess the political situation in Serbia after June’s parliamentary elections?
There is a need for more constructive political dialogue. The current polarization is not healthy, particularly in a delicate phase when the fight against COVID-19 requires unity. This is why the EU has encouraged the ruling coalition to reach out to the whole of society and for the next government to put European agenda reforms, particularly in the area of the Rule of Law, at the centre of its programme.
You’ve said that the EU was concerned about the use of police force against protesters during anti-government demonstrations in Belgrade?
We condemned any form of violence and called on the government to ensure the right to peaceful protest and the safety of journalists – as rights that are fundamental in every democratic country. The use of force should always be proportionate, and we have asked for an effective investigation and follow-up. At the same time, it is essential to maintain public order and the inviolability of democratic institutions, in particular the National Assembly, which was stormed by violent protestors.
The European Parliament – which led the inter-party dialogue before the elections – has signalled its commitment to continue to engage with the new Parliament, in order to forge a broad cross-party consensus on EU-related reforms
There have been calls from the European Parliament to organise a special mission to Serbia, in order to address allegations that the recent parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair. How do you see that initiative?
As a negotiating candidate country, Serbia is already subject to an enhanced process of monitoring and reporting on the rule of law. In this context, the Commission in particular issues a report twice a year on the Rule of Law and regularly monitors the situation in Serbia. The EU raises the issue regularly with the authorities and provides support to journalists and media associations. The next annual report of the European Commission – to be released in the autumn – will contain a detailed assessment on the state of the rule of law with a number of recommendations. The European Parliament should also issue its own report before the end of the year.
Serbian opposition parties are also asking the EU to get more involved in what they describe as a “political crisis” in the country. Do you see room for that?
The EU has publicly encouraged the Serbian leadership to engage in a genuine dialogue across the political spectrum, to move forward important reforms on the rule of law. The European Parliament – which led the inter-party dialogue before the elections – has signalled its commitment to continue to engage with the new Parliament, in order to forge a broad cross-party consensus on EU-related reforms.
EU member states haven’t agreed to open a new negotiating chapter with Serbia, because they were not satisfied with the progress achieved by Serbia in the field of human rights and the rule of law. How do you think this situation could be overcome?
In its last report in June, the European Commission assessed that Serbia had made progress in a number of areas, while it is facing serious delays in others. The report indicated that Serbia needs to accelerate reforms in the key areas of judicial independence, the fight against corruption, media freedom, the domestic handling of war crimes and the fight against organised crime.
At the same time, the report also assessed that progress had been achieved, including, for example, in reducing the backlog of old enforcement cases, border management and asylum procedures, and in the drafting of a new media strategy in a transparent and inclusive manner. Future progress can be achieved by continuing to implement meaningful reforms that are necessary for EU accession.
How would you assess the meeting in Brussels that marked the resumption of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina?
Positively. After a break of nearly 20 months, the EU facilitated dialogue has resumed. The first few rounds of talks in Brussels – dedicated to IDPs and missing persons – were considered positive and constructive. Economic cooperation will also be addressed in the next round. We need to sustain this new momentum, with a view to the ultimate objective of achieving the comprehensive normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The EU is fully committed to facilitating this outcome.
It is an unprecedented reaction to an unprecedented challenge. It is a clear sign that solidarity is part of our DNA
We condemned any form of violence and called on the government to ensure the right to peaceful protest and the safety of journalists – as rights that are fundamental
The first few rounds of talks in Brussels – dedicated to IDPs and missing persons – were considered positive and constructive