EC publishes annual report on Serbia's progress

The EC in its annual report on Serbia's progress towards EU membership says Serbia sufficiently fulfilled the political criteria, but must focus on key issues.

Source: B92, Beta, Tanjug
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The report is published in English on the website europa.eu.

The European Commission stated that the Serbian government must continue to focus on what is essential, and this is especially the rule of law, including freedom of expression, civil service reform, along with good economic management.

In the "key findings", the summary of the report stresses that the launch of negotiations on Serbia's membership of the EU in January this year was a new cornerstone in Serbian aspirations to join the EU, which was confirmed as a goal of the new government in Belgrade.

The economic and structural reforms began in May, while catastrophic floods deteriorated the budget situation in Serbia, it is added to this document, and noted that the budget deficit has to be dealt with as a primary task.

The EC report said that the successful holding of the Pride Parade in Belgrade last month meant that an important milestone was reached in the protection of human rights in Serbia, not just the LGBT community but in general.

It was also stated that a package of media laws was a positive development, but on the other hand noted that "there are concerns about the deterioration of conditions for the expression of free speech."

The Commission has noted the continued lack of transparency of ownership, revenue from advertising and media financing, with a tendency to self-censorship.

It is essential, the document stated, that Serbia continues to meet current obligations on regional cooperation and normalization of relations with Kosovo through consistent application in good faith of all the arrangements made in the dialogue, so that the membership negotiations continue smoothly.

It further pointed out that the Serbian authorities have created mechanisms to include in the membership negotiations with the EU the civil society and parliament.

They also made an effort to improve the efficiency of public administration and financial management, "along with a new strategy and legislation allowing the withdrawal of the state from media ownership."

Also, the Commission emphasizes that Serbia must implement reforms, and constitutional changes that would represent significant progress in membership negotiations, along with the strengthening of independent regulatory bodies.

The reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption are "at an early stage and need to be boosted with strict supervision and mechanisms for compliance," said the executive body of the EU.

The report underlines that Serbia has continued to play a positive role in regional cooperation and normalization of relations with Kosovo, with a commitment to the implementation of the agreement Belgrade-Priština.

However, it continued, regardless of early elections on both sides, Serbia must continue to achieve results in the normalization of relations with Kosovo through ongoing implementation in good faith of all agreements, so that the membership negotiations (with the EU) continue to smoothly.

One EU official with knowledge of the matter told reporters that primarily Germany wants Serbia to tangibly implement agreements with Priština in order to open chapter 35 of the membership negotiations with the EU, which is also connected with the opening of the key chapters 23 and 24 related to the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.

As part of chapter 35 normalization of relations with Kosovo will be negotiated, and reacting to a remark that it will be difficult for Serbia to make progress in the normalization if there is no government in Priština, it was said that concrete issues regarding the bridge in Kosovska Mitrovica, energy, illegal crossings and others can be solved.

In the report, the European Commission pointed out the growth of the Serbian economy of 2.5 percent in 2013, but a stagnation due to the decline in domestic demand and indicates that only exports continued to grow.

Unemployment has reached a rate of 20 percent of the working age population, Serbia has a large budget deficit, and the economy continues to be disrupted by a large proportion of nonperforming loans, while the May floods have further deteriorated the economic situation.

Serbia has launched a serious program of economic reforms by adopting new laws on the labor market, privatization and liquidation, salaries and pensions, according to the report.

It underlines that "important efforts are still necessary" to grapple with the large budget deficit by reducing to acceptable proportions government expenditure, establish budgetary discipline and improve tax collection.

Extensive structural reforms must be implemented and the education system made more effective, it said.

Progress is necessary in the privatization and reorganization of state-owned enterprises, to reduce to a reasonable level state subsidies and improve business conditions, the document said.

The executive body of the EU emphasizes that the Serbian legislation must be harmonized with the EU legislation in parallel with negotiations on membership, which includes the energy sector, including the South Stream pipeline, the environment, climate change, government subsidies, health and social protection and asylum policy.

In foreign and security policy, Serbia must also gradually harmonize its policies and positions with the EU policy in the period until it joins the EU, read the key findings of the report of the European Commission.

"Numerous challenges"

Kosovo has the capacity to move forward in EU integration, but it faces numerous challenges in combating organized crime and corruption and establishing the rule of law, the European Commission (EC) annual report on Kosovo presented in Brussels on Wednesday says.

The Kosovo authorities have displayed a solid capacity to coordinate plans for EU integration, the EC states, adding that Kosovo has completed the negotiations concerning the Stabilization and Association Agreement and started the talks concerning a visa liberalization.

However, practical results in the battle against corruption and organized crime and in establishing an independent judiciary are still lacking, according to the report.

Besides that, this year was marked by the parliamentary election held in May, but with no parliament formed yet, which is a serious problem, he EC points out.

The report commends the authorities in Priština for their support to EULEX and the Special Investigative Task Force that investigated the organ trafficking claims made in a report by Dick Marty, but it is also stressed that the legal framework needed for the investigation to get its closure in court is yet to be adopted.

The only area where the EC noted significant progress is the normalization of the relations with Belgrade, with the continuation of that process and the implementation of the Brussels agreement playing a key role for Kosovo's EU integration in the future.

The situation in northern Kosovo remains tense, the EC notes, demanding from all sides that they continue supporting EULEX, and stressing that the mission should be allowed to operate everywhere in Kosovo.

More effort should be invested to incorporate the Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo into Kosovo's legal system, the report reads.

Market economy does not exist yet in Kosovo and the gray economy has a significant presence, the EC believes.

The need for structural economic reforms that would reduce unemployment has reached the level of urgency, and reforms are also necessary in the election system, public administration and protection of minority rights, the report says.

The EC concluded by asking that the preparations to shut down the Kosovo A hydroelectric power station be faster and expressed concern for the Kosovo authorities' lack of interest in the protection of the environment and people's health.

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