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        • Serbia checked most of the boxes that were warranted by its accession process to the EU in 2015, a fact which was recognised on 18 July when negotiations on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights (Chapter 23) and Justice, Freedom and Security (Chapter 24) were opened. The opening of these two chapters was a result of a long process that was characterised by several rounds of consultations regarding drafting of corresponding Action Plans, producing Negotiating Positions, and coordination efforts on the part of line ministries hitherto never seen before. The Belgrade-Pristina dialogue continued, despite the fact that the implementation of the already reached agreements was lagging. Finally, early elections were organised on April 24, when the incumbent Prime Minister’s coalition won by a landslide and formed a new, decidedly pro-European Government. Despite the fact that the new parliamentary convocation now gathers parties sceptical toward or against the EU, there seem to be no obstacles when it comes to either support or legitimacy of the Government’s pro-EU agenda.

          However, if these technical aspects of accession talks are set aside, the current situation when it comes to the rule of law area leaves much to be desired. In the annual World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index for 2016, Serbia holds the same score when compared to the previous year; its ranking, however, fell by four positions, indicating stagnating reforms and no progress. In their 2016 World Press Freedom index, Reporters without Borders claim that media freedoms declined from 2014 onwards, citing editorial pressure, public attacks against critics and faulty application of the media law package.  In addition, serious incidents involving law enforcement agencies continue to showcase all troubled spots and failures of state institutions, and disrespect for the rule of law principles. The most prominent one, the so-called Savamala incident, demonstrated that the police, prosecution, both state and Belgrade city authorities, including the media with national coverage, can all be effectively silenced or counted upon not to act when needed, contrary to the law and despite the best public interest.

          If any of the areas covered by this study is to be observed separately, the progress achieved differs. For instance, when it comes to handling the migration-refugee crisis, the actions of Serbian authorities are highly commendable. This is despite the fact that the legal alignment in this area is not taking place as envisaged by the relevant Action Plan due to the ongoing crisis. In some other areas there has only been stagnation, as is the case with elections where OSCE/ODIHR recommendations from 2014 can still be taken and prescribed almost verbatim after the 2016 elections. Finally, there are areas where serious backsliding is evident, as is the case with the external oversight of the security sector.

          However, despite the patchy track record, the overall conclusions of the study are that the progress in crucial areas is not sufficient and that more credible efforts are required. What Serbia had so far was mostly mimicry of reforms that were implemented under the mantra of the EU accession process. For these to be sustainable and impactful, the Government must focus on the basics, namely on strengthening institutions and showing full respect to the rule of law principles.

          The study is conducted within the framework of the project Monitoring and Evaluation of the Rule of Law in Western Balkans (MERLIN WB), conducted by the European Policy Institute - Skopje in partnership with Institute Alternativa from Montenegro and the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy from Serbia and funded by the European Fund for the Balkans.

           

        • Tags: MERLIN, rule of law, civil society, Western Balkans, corruption
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