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Stefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Address to the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia

National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia

Belgrade, 29 March 2011

Dear Madam Speaker,

Dear Members of Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, thank you Madam Speaker, for your invitation to address this Assembly today. It is an honour for me and shows the importance Serbia attaches to its European future.

2011 is the year of opportunities for enlargement policy, for the whole Western Balkans region, and for Serbia in particular.

  • Important symbolic moves towards reconciliation took place recently – like your Resolution on Srebrenica, or the meeting of your and Croatian President in Vukovar.

  • I hear a lot about Enlargement fatigue. For me, however, it is a myth, like the yeti – it is often discussed, but never seen.

Let us fight this myth. Let us fight it through reforms which deliver benefits to people, and which bring Serbia closer to the EU.

The accession process, however, is not an easy ride. Wide agreement on key strategic objectives and legislation is needed. And Parliament is THE institution for inclusive dialogue between political parties. Debates on the EU are essential.

Dear Members of Parliament,

The Opinion on Serbia’s application is an opportunity to move to the next steps of the accession bid. It is our shared interest to see Serbia as a GOOD NEWS STORY for enlargement in 2011. It would be good news for Serbia, good news for the region and good news for the European Union.

The EU has shown it wants much closer ties with Serbia:

1) Ratification of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is progressing rapidly – both European Parliament and 2/3 of Member States have approved ratification already.

2) Interim Agreement consolidates trade and economic exchanges between the EU and Serbia. Last year, exports from Serbia to the EU have seen 32 percent growth, while imports have risen by 8 percent. This is very important for crisis recovery.

On the Opinion of the European Commission: It is the golden opportunity to move to the next symbolically crucial stage: hopefully candidate status, and maybe even a date for starting negotiations.

Because enlargement is a credible policy: you deliver on reforms, and the EU delivers on your progress. You are given this chance this year. The Commission is here to guide and help.

We gave you a roadmap – our last Progress report, the key priority areas, which your government translated into its own Action Plan for you to concentrate on. All are equally important for a positive Opinion. Let me go through them:

First: judicial reform shall be finalised in line with European standards. Not because the EU asks for it. Because Serbian citizens deserve an effective, independent and impartial judiciary, to be able to effectively tackle corruption and fight organised crime, and to guarantee a stable and predictable business environment for domestic and foreign investors.

We appreciate the early start of the reform – even before opening the negotiations on your membership. But there were many shortcomings, which are now in the process of being addressed. The solution lies in a two-step approach:

A) The election of the High Judicial Council and the State Prosecutorial Council in their regular composition.

B) Both bodies review fully the re-appointment procedure, based on clear and transparent criteria and guidelines.

The first stage is successfully nearly finished. Now you have to move to the effective review of reappointments. There is no time to lose, we need a solid track record before issuing our Opinion.

As regards efficiency, the rationalisation of courts needs to bring results.

Legislative changes are also expected in relation to Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes as slow justice is justice denied.

Second key priority: fight against organised crime and corruption:

This is a challenge for the whole region and one on which no one can afford any complacency, not the EU, nor your country as this undermines the basis of any democracy.

Serbia has already started: you strengthened your legal framework, now you work on its implementation. But, we need much, much more.

First - that the legal framework is completed. No grey zone can be left for undue influence or illicit activities. You need to

  • adopt the law on financing of political parties in line with EU standards, reflecting last week's recommendations from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

  • Adopt a new anti-corruption strategy, and an action plan with clear timelines, responsible bodies, and financial means.

  • Pay particular attention that all public procurement is conducted in line with EU standards. As this is one field very prone to corruption.

Second - You have to give full political and financial support to the law enforcement bodies and increase their investigative means. It is also important to improve their coordination – be it between the police and prosecution, or customs and tax administration. They need to exchange information, guarantee protection of witnesses and whistleblowers, report on any suspicion, just to make a few examples…

Ultimately, demonstrate efficiency of the system through a credible track record of opened investigations and final convictions. Again, I ask for concrete results!

In simple terms, you have to crack organised crime and corruption. Zero tolerance, no one above the law. This is no easy task. It requires both strong political will and active regional cooperation. You have most of what you need, it is time to act.

Third key priority is changes to the electoral law, as a basis for transparent democracy.

Dear Madam Speaker,

I welcome your engagement in preparing the draft legislation. We rely on your action to now revise the draft, on the basis of the opinion of the Venice Commission.

There are two crucial issues:

A) Blank resignations, which mean party control over mandates of Members of Parliament. This issue has been widely discussed already: they need to be abolished.

B) Full respect for the order of candidates of the entire ballot paper. This is a basic principle of democracy, and a key European standard: citizens must elect their representatives freely and know who they vote for. There is no space for deciding of political parties after the elections.

The fourth key issue is the need to ensure proper functioning of independent regulatory bodies. This is essential for transparent democracy.

Dear Madam Speaker,

Let me once again commend your personal contribution to this issue, in the recent amendments of the rules of procedure.

The revision of your rules of procedure is a welcome step, which should raise democratic control one step further. Particular attention should now be paid to their proper implementation. This includes:

1) More transparent procedures for appointments to such bodies, within prescribed deadlines;

2) Due consideration to their reports, with their independence respected;

Fifth key issue: There is a pressing need to establish legal clarity and certainty on property rights, an essential element for a favourable business environment. We need to see the process launched now.

Sixth priority: protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

All institutions need to be particularly vigilant on human rights and the protection of minorities, including the more vulnerable groups, such as the Roma. Vigilance is also key in relation to other rights – like freedom of expression, protection of journalists, or prisoners´ rights.

Dear Madame Speaker, Dear Members of Parliament,

These are some of the most urgent internal reforms Serbia needs to undertake in the weeks and months ahead.

They are urgent to ensure a functioning democracy, what we call the “political criteria”. Let me be clear: fulfilling the political criteria is essential for a positive Opinion, as any applicant country has to demonstrate that it is a functioning democracy before the Commission can recommend the opening of EU accession negotiations.

But there are also other issues of vital importance, on which I also want to insist.

And let me call it a priority Seven - recent moves towards final reconciliation are creating a positive perception of Serbia in the European Union. The most important factor in keeping this perception are the developments in regional cooperation and with regard to Kosovo:

Here, we appreciate the positive spirit in which the Belgrade - Pristina dialogue has started. We hope that both sides will make the best out of this new momentum: we want to see positive steps to address the practical needs of all the people living in Kosovo taken rapidly.

But let´s not forget other regional issues. Specific efforts are needed to finding sustainable solutions for the inclusion of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: the new momentum in the Sarajevo process is encouraging as regards refugees. 20 years after the start of the conflict in former Yugoslavia, this chapter should finally be closed.

Eight: Reconciliation will not be complete as long as there is no justice for all. Full cooperation with ICTY is not just an international obligation. It is a moral obligation to bring justice to the victims and their relatives and to achieve long lasting and true reconciliation.

A) Cooperation with ICTY will be crucial for the conclusions of the Opinion and for the decision of 27 Member States.

B) I took a good note of strong commitment at the highest level.

C) I sincerely hope this will lead to results in the very near future.

Dear Madam Speaker, Dear Members of Parliament,

By sharing with you my perception of the key challenges ahead I actually wanted to deliver a very simple message:

  • Things are not easy, especially when you need to tackle so many of them in such a short period of time.

  • However, we do believe that you can make it.

  • And you are not alone in this endeavour. We are here to help, with expertise, financial support and guidance. In one word, we walk the way with you.

This is our common, strategic project, the project of Serbia coming where she belongs, to the family of European Union nations.

The objective is real, and it is within reach. There is no space for doubt, only for energy and action.

This is the reality of the European Integration; this is the reality we want to share with you. Please make sure we can open the next door in the path to the European Union at the end of this year. Let’s open this door together.

Thank you for your attention.

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