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    • Serbian citizens have limited access to informations about the negotiations with the EU

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    • Date: 28 March 2017

      Source: "Medija centar Beograd"
      Source: "Medija centar Beograd"

      The public is not informed enough about the process of European integration and the Government of Serbia hinders the access to relevant documents for civil society organizations, are the main conclusions of the discussion organized by Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) on 28 March 2017 at the Media Center in Belgrade.

      The six-month research of BCSP “Informing the Citizens in an Objective and Timely Manner on the Process of European Integration“ was presented at the event. Discussion was conducted on chapters that are complex and that will be negotiated the longest with the EU - Chapter 23 (Judiciary and fundamental rights) and Chapter 24 (Justice, freedom and security) and how much are citizens of Serbia informed on European integration.

      BCSP Executive Director, Predrag Petrovic pointed out that Serbian government is officiallycommitted to the involvment of civil society in the negotiations on EU accession, but since 2015 began to complicate the work of civil society organizations through unclear bylaws.

      “The executive branch is preventing the access to documents relevant to citizens with constant changes of bylaws. Of particular concern is the proposal of the Decree in the fields of scientific and other research relevant to national defense, which will have extremely negative consequences for further informing of the public”, Petrovic emphasized.

      Chief of Cabinet of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Slavoljupka Pavlovic assessed the implementation of labels “restrictive/limite” in state bodies’ communication with the civil sector as poor.

      “Serbian Constitution prescribes that only the laws may restrict access to information of public importance. Decrees, conclusions or bylaws can not be the ground for proper rejection of the request” said Pavlovic.

      Advisor to Minister without portfolio responsible for European integration, Jugoslav Milacic did not agree with the assessments that the Government is trying to restrict access to information of public importance to interested citizens and added that the problems in accessing documents are due to procedures required by EU itself.

      “The Government cooperates with the National Convention on the EU within the framework in which are considered important documents such as action plans for Chapters 23 and 24. This type of communication is unique in region”, said Milacic.

      BCSP researcher Sofija Mandic reminded that Serbian government adopted conclusions related to the decree which leaves the possibility of using the label ”restrictive” for related acts until closing of the Chapters. She pointed out that the conclusions state that documents with this designation are not available to the public, which may lead to abuses.

      Source: "Medija centar Beograd"
      Source: "Medija centar Beograd"

      The experiences of civil society organizations (CSO) in the process of obtaining information on Chapters 23 and 24 were presented during the conference. Panelists agreed that the public in Serbia is not informed enough about the negotiation process and that change must be initiated by the state.

      Nemanja Nenadic from Transparency Serbia pointed out numerous problems in research areas covered in Chapter 23, especially fight against corruption, as well as the challenges of communicating their findings to the public.

      “The public is not sufficiently informed about negotiation process with the EU. Difficulty of obtaining official documents for CSO’s is less of a problem compared to the fact that Serbian media rarely publish news on European integration.” Nenadic pointed out.

      The main reason for declining public interest for EU accession is exactly the biased informing of citizens, assessed Danijela Bozovic from Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA).

      “The problem is not just the media. The most direct communication channel should be the websites of state institutions, but they are either under development for years or aren’t updated regularly. This poses a problem for researchers from civil society who cannot get the data”, said Bozovic.

      Source: "Medija centar Beograd"
      Source: "Medija centar Beograd"

      Petar Zmak from Civic Initiatives and NCEU Working Group for Chapter 23 said that in his work he often faces the silence of institutions or refusals to access information of public importance, adding that the media in Serbia don’t have enough knowledge about negotiations with the EU.

      “It is often forgotten that the process of EU accession is long term, strategic goal of the state, about which the people know almost nothing. It is necessary to include representatives of local authorities in reform”, concluded Zmak.

      BCSP researcher Maja Bjelos concluded that process of EU accession should be “controlled by  the citizens” and that state administration should provide the opportunity for more comprehensive public debate on this important issue. She added that it is necessary that the executive take a clearer stance on European integration which should include issues such as the rule of law and the functioning of legal state, adding to foreign policy orientation.

      The conference was held within the project “Real say on policy”, which was realized within the framework of the project implemented by Trag Foundation in partnership with the association CRTA, National Coalition for Decentralization and Foundation Slavko Ćuruvija, with financial support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

       

      This article was translated by BCSP intern Nevena Vasic.

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