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Brussels, 8 October 2014
Key findings of the Progress Report on Serbia
The Progress Report on Serbia is part of the 2014 Enlargement Package adopted by the European Commission on 8 October. The actual opening of accession negotiations in January 2014 marked a new milestone in Serbia's EU aspiration. Following early elections of March 2014, the new government confirmed EU accession as Serbia's main ambition. EU accession negotiations are now underway. The analytical examination of the acquis (screening) is proceeding according to schedule and 24 chapters out of 35 have entered or completed the process.
The Commission concluded that Serbia sufficiently meets the political criteria. Looking ahead, Serbia needs to continue to focus on the fundamentals first, in particular on the rule of law, including the full exercise of freedom of expression, public administration reform, together with economic governance. Economic and structural reforms have started although last May's catastrophic floods further worsened the fiscal situation, which remains to be consolidated as a matter of priority. It is also crucial for Serbia to continue its commitment to regional cooperation and normalisation of relations with Kosovo through continuous implementation in good faith of all agreements reached in the dialogue, so that EU accession negotiations continue to proceed smoothly.
Serbia continues to sufficiently fulfil the political criteria. Early general elections held in March 2014 were inclusive and transparent, and the continued European orientation of the governing coalition received strong support on that occasion. Irrespective of the elections, and of the dramatic floods that hit the country in May, the Serbian government remained actively engaged towards its goal of EU accession, and demonstrated preparedness and dedication in the first phase of the negotiations process. Mechanisms have been set in place to enhance inclusiveness throughout the accession negotiations and involve the civil society and the parliament. Steps were taken towards more efficient public administration and financial management, including through the adoption of a new strategy on public administration and the adoption of a legislation allowing for withdrawal of State's ownership from media. The Pride Parade in Belgrade which took place on 28 September without major incidents is an important milestone for the effective exercise of human rights in general.
Serbia still needs to implement comprehensive reforms. Constitutional reforms early on in the new legislature would represent decisive progress in the accession negotiations. It is necessary to keep improving inclusiveness and transparency of the reform process, especially at times of particular economic and social challenges for Serbian citizens. Urgent parliamentary procedure should be limited to cases when strictly necessary. The role of independent regulatory bodies remains to be better acknowledged and their recommendations followed up. The implementation of the 2013-2018 strategies on judicial reform and fight against corruption are at an early stage and need to be backed by strong monitoring and coordination mechanisms.
Serbia has continued to play a positive role in regional cooperation and remained engaged in the normalisation of its relations with Kosovo and overall committed to the implementation of the April 2013 First agreement on principles, and other agreements reached in the dialogue. Irrespective of early elections on both sides, Serbia needs to continue delivering on the normalisation of relations with Kosovo through continuous implementation in good faith of all agreements reached in the dialogue, so that EU accession negotiations continue to proceed smoothly.
Serbia's economy grew by 2.5% in 2013 but then stagnated as domestic demand was shrinking and only exports continued rising. Unemployment remained very high at 20%. Serbia faces an important budget deficit and the economy is still troubled by the high share of non-performing loans. The heavy floods that hit the country in May further worsened the economic situation.
Serbia has made a serious start on its programme of economic reforms, by adopting new laws on labour, privatisation and bankruptcy, salaries and pensions. Significant efforts are still needed to address the very high budget deficit, by streamlining government spending, restoring fiscal discipline and improving tax collection. A wide range of structural reforms remains to be carried out. The education system needs to be made more efficient. Progress must be made on the privatisation and restructuring of State owned enterprises, on the streamlining of State aid and on the improvement of the business environment.
Serbia stayed committed to aligning its legislation with the EU acquis with a 2014-2018 National plan for the adoption of the acquis and continued to implement its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).
Serbia needs to develop and implement a robust monitoring mechanism for acquis alignment across the board. Significant efforts must generally be made to ensure that human and financial resources are allocated to allow effective enforcement of reforms. Serbia needs to step up its efforts towards alignment with the EU acquis in particular in the fields of energy – including on the South Stream gas pipeline, environment, climate change, state aid, health and social protection system and asylum policies. In the foreign and security policy area, Serbia also needs to progressively align its policies and positions with the EU ones, in the period up to accession.
1999: The EU proposes the new Stabilisation and Association Process for five countries of Southeast Europe
June 2000: The European Council states that all the Stabilisation and Association countries are potential candidates for EU membership
June 2003: Thessaloniki Summit: EU perspective for the Western Balkans is confirmed
April 2008: Signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between Serbia and the EU
December 2009: Visa-free travel to Schengen area for citizens of Serbia; Serbia presents its application for membership of the EU
February 2010: The Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-related issues (part of the SAA) enters into force
October 2011: The European Commission issues its Opinion on Serbia's application for EU membership
March 2012: Serbia obtains the status of candidate country
April 2013: The European Commission recommends the opening of accession negotiations with Serbia
June 2013: The European Council decides to open accession negotiations with Serbia
September 2013: The SAA enters into force; the analytical examination of the acquis (“screening”) starts.
December 2013: The Council adopts the negotiating framework.
21 January 2014: First inter-governmental conference on accession negotiations with Serbia.
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