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    • Space for Public Dialogue and Civic Engagement Needs to Be Ensured

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    • Date: 27 February 2019

      The reporting of the EU on captured state, the improvement of the mechanisms of cooperation with civil society and the involvement of citizens and the protection of the right to free access to information of public importance are among the recommendations brought at the 8th meeting of the EU-Serbia Joint Consultative Committeeheld on 27 February 2019 in Brussels.

      The topics of the eighth meeting of the JCC were digitalization and public administration reform, as well as monitoring the fulfilment of recommendations from the previous meeting regarding the rule of law and the establishment of an encouraging environment for the functioning of civil society, the state of relations between Serbia and the EU and the work ahead of Serbia's EU membership negotiations. After the meeting, which was attended by BCSP Director Sonja Stojanovic Gajic as a representative of civil society in Serbia in the Priority area of ​​Rule of Law, a Joint Declaration was adopted with the main conclusions and recommendations.

      The problem of the captured state requires new solutions

      The committee called on the state authorities of Serbia and the EU institutions to solve the problem of state capture, recognized as a challenge in all Western Balkan countries in the EU Enlargement Strategy from February 2018. JCCM members recommended the implementation of an independent analysis of state capture - the mechanisms used for public resources in private and party interests, modelled on the “Priebe report” that contributed to the overcoming of this problem in Northern Macedonia.

      Serbia received the status "partly free" in the Freedom House report for 2019 and dropped 17 places in comparison with 2017 in the World Press Freedom Index of the Reporters without Borders, the Declaration stated. In the CPI Index measuring the extent of corruption and published by Transparency International, Serbia lost two points. Because of these assessments, JCC called for the respect of the independence of the institutions responsible for ensuring the rule of law, combating corruption and respecting fundamental rights.

      JCC members also expressed concern over the trend of misuse of public office during election campaigns in Serbia and the lack of response by relevant institutions. It is recalled in the Joint Declaration that it is necessary to implement the recommendations of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and to adopt civil society recommendations on improving the legal framework for the conducting of elections and electoral campaigns.

      Enable dialogue and institutional independence

      Members of the JCC warned of restrictions on the space for dialogue in public institutions and inadequate parliamentary oversight of the executive. It was pointed out that the ruling majority hinders the functioning of the National Assembly by taking time to discuss important changes by submitting a large number of amendments, which are subsequently withdrawn. In addition, JCC members stressed that it is necessary to clarify the conditions for adoption of laws by urgent procedure and apply it only when it is necessary. They also warned that the amendments to the Serbian Constitution proposed by the Serbian Government would not create preconditions for an independent judiciary, which is free of political influence, and a condemnation of attacks by high-ranking politicians and civil society organizations close to the government on professional associations of judges who criticize proposed amendments.

      In order to ensure that the voices of experts, citizens and civil society organizations are heard when new legal solutions are introduced, JCC recommends the introduction of mechanisms for regular public hearings and analysing the effects of regulations every time reforms and new laws are being prepared. Greater citizen participation would be encouraged by regularly publishing relevant information on official sites, in a form that is simple and understandable.

      The committee condemned the attacks of members of the Government, the National Assembly and the pro-regime media on civil society organizations and called on the state authorities to do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators of these vicious attacks to justice. JCC members pointed to the need to improve mechanisms for cooperation with civil society and the effective involvement of civil society organizations in the consultation processes. They recalled the recommendations from the previous session on the need for adoption of the National Strategy for Creating a Supporting Environment for the Development of Civil Society and the accompanying Action Plan.

      JCC members once again urged state authorities to improve the independence of independent bodies and professional associations, ensure the implementation of their decisions, and warrant that the current level of protection of human rights and the fight against corruption will not be reduced. JCC submitted a request to the Government of Serbia to provide citizens with free access to information of public importance without unnecessary restrictions, such as marking information as confidential or imposing a ban on access to information relating to state-owned enterprises and the National Bank. They called on the state authorities to initiate the process of electing a new Commissioner for Information of Public Importance as soon as possible and protecting personal data in a transparent competition that will enable the selection of the most qualified candidate without conflict of interest.

      In order to promote the economic and social rapprochement of the Western Balkan countries to the EU, it is necessary to continue supporting EU enlargement and improving the means and ways of engaging countries in the region after the EU elections in May 2019, members of the JCC demanded. They reiterated the need for the state authorities of Serbia to consult the Social and Economic Council, the National Convention on the EU and other civil society platforms in a more systematic manner and at all stages and relevant chapters in the EU accession negotiations.

      The Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) is one of the bodies created on the basis of the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Serbia. This committee allows civil society organizations to both sides to monitor the progress of the Republic of Serbia on the way towards the European Union, and to make recommendations that will be made available to the Government of the Republic of Serbia and EU institutions. Representative organizations of employers, trade unions and civil society organizations representing the rule of law, protection of the environment and rights of persons with disabilities participate in the work of JCC.

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