Serbia shows signs of slowing down in its EU accession process

Serbia shows signs of slowing down in its EU accession process

From the beginning of 2018 until the end of September 2019, although the plan was for Serbia to align itself with the European Union (EU), it has completed only EU laws and regulations.

In particular, according to the European Western Balkans (EWB), about 49% of the envisaged harmonization has been completed, which testifies to the slowness of the process, especially given that if Serbia wants to join the EU, the changes must be completed in their entirety.

In other words, according to data available on the website of the Ministry of European Integration, of the 440 planned regulations for the period 1 March 2018 – 30 September 2019, only 215 were approved.

In March 2018, the Government of Serbia approved the 3rd National Program for the Adoption of the European Acquis (NPAA), specifying individually which legislative acts will be adopted and at what time by the end of 2021.

While the report is expected for the last quarter of 2019, it can already be seen that the government is not overly committed to meeting the deadlines set before it, as at the end of each of the last seven quarters, compliance was below 50%, according to EWB.

During the period 2008-2012, compliance was 88%, and at the legislative level, 83%. Of the 243 planned laws, 201 were adopted. From the 108 laws that were to be adopted in 2018 and the first three quarters of 2019, 44 were adopted in the end. For 2016 and 2017, there is no data, ie no data because the reports were never published – says Vladimir Medjak, Vice President of the European Movement in Serbia.

In the first years since the change of government in 2012, the Serbian government has dropped the level of alignment with the EU by half. For example, 85% of all planned regulations were adopted in the first half of 2013. In 2015, this rate was generally around 60%. And then that percentage drops furhter.

All of the reforms Serbia must implement, according to which citizens will undoubtedly benefit, remain neglected. These are precisely the reforms envisaged in the national program, which is being implemented only partly.

It has been repeatedly emphasized that due to the modest results, the focus on the harmonization process has been lost; These reforms should be done by the government for the benefit of the citizens and not because of the EU.

It is noted that this is part of a process that is not specific to complex political issues, such as the normalization of relations with Kosovo, but almost solely depends on the political will to bring the rules of procedure in line with the best standards of European law, says Srdan Majstorovic, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for European Policies and member of the Balkans Europe Advisory Group (BiEPAG).

According to Majstorovic, the slow pace of harmonization of internal rules with EU rules is not in line with the current conditions in Serbia, which, at least on paper, should be ideal for this endeavor.

The national program has been drawn up in a timely manner: clearly setting out the regulations that will be in line with EU rules, specifying the responsible institutions for their implementation, as well as how to monitor implementation and reporting. The fact that, despite insufficient momentum, Serbia is nonetheless a state that negotiates the conditions for accession in the EU, should be a sufficient incentive for the government and the relevant institutions to do their utmost, he stresses.

One possible explanation for this trend is the increasing complexity of the issues that need to be harmonized. However, in Vladimir Mejak’s view, although it is true that this process is becoming more and more complex as it goes into more and more specific areas, this cannot justify delays in the process.

Serbia has been at this stage for 20 years. Now we come to some very specific things, but it took us 20 years to learn a lot. As we move towards the EU, capacity needs to be built. The process should be accelerated rather than slowed down, Međak explains.

Another explanation for the slowing down of the process could be the lack of administrative capacity necessary to adopt comprehensive and complex European legislation.

The decline in alignment with the acquis is due to the fact that European integration is not a dominant priority. Governmental competences turn to other things that are a priority, but the European course is not among them. When it is said to be a strategic priority, it means that all competences should focus on it. And there are some delays in some areas, Medjak says.

Referring to the recent adoption of Chapter 27 on the Environment for example, it took three years – as many as a government term. With regard to Chapter 19, on social policy, even after three years, the action plan was not adopted.

The inertia and the modest results of the implementation of the national program shows a lack of interest in real change, namely compliance with EU rules, which means that it is not currently recognized as a top priority, Majstorovic notes.

In his opinion, the National Assembly is an institution that should be interested in the pace of implementation of the commitments necessary for Serbia’s EU accession.

Unfortunately, these results are sure to be used as an argument for Serbia’s inadequate readiness to speed up the EU accession process and thus justify the skepticism in some Member States, not only in relation to Serbia, but also in general the effectiveness of the enlargement policy of the Union, Srđan Majstorovic says.

Of course, partial responsibility for the speed of accession rests with the Member States, who are currently seeking consensus on the enlargement process and its possible reform.

At the end of January, the report on the completion of the plan for the last quarter of 2019 will be published. The picture of the parliamentary procedure shows that of the 11 statutory bills of the period, six have been approved, and the evaluation of the regulations will have to wait.

In any case, the implementation of the national program must be stepped up significantly if Serbia really wants to present itself as a country that is clearly prepared to assume all the obligations stemming from its EU accession.

“Such an approach cannot speed up Serbia’s EU accession process, but it will certainly send a message of a credible and responsible candidate who will be accepted and presented itself to its citizens as a serious future member of the Union”, Srđan Majstorovic concludes./ibna