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Speech: Strengthening the Capacities of Law Enforcement and Judiciary in the Fight against Corruption in Serbia

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/13/372   26/04/2013

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European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Strengthening the Capacities of Law Enforcement and Judiciary in the Fight against Corruption in Serbia

Start-up Conference of the Joint EU – Council of Europe Project : “Strengthening the Capacities of Law Enforcement and Judiciary in the Fight against Corruption in Serbia”, Belgrade

26 April 2013

Poštovani Prvi Podpredsedniče Vlade,

Poštovani Ministre,

Poštovani V.D. Predsednika Vrhovnog kasacionog suda,

Vaše Ekselencije,

Poštovani učesnici i organizatori,

Veliko mi je zadovoljstvo da učestvujem na današnjoj konferenciji, koja ima za temu borbu protiv korupcije i jačanje pravosudnih organa, kao prioriteta borbe za vladavinu prava.

(It is my pleasure to participate in this conference on the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the judiciary. They are the key priorities in the development of the rule of law.)

Let me continue in English - although with my opening in Serbian I wanted to express respect to Serbia, to your people and your language, particularly at this time.

Last Friday, we saw an historic breakthrough in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue which will allow the whole region to move beyond past conflicts, bringing Serbia closer to its future within Europe.

On Monday, a first step was already reached when we, the European Commission and the High Representative, Lady Ashton, adopted our joint report on Serbia’s progress in achieving the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria.

I am very happy, and proud, that the Commission has been in a position to unambiguously recommend the opening of accession negotiations with Serbia. This is a long expected and deserved move. And it is directly linked to the subject of today's conference.

The commitment of the Serbian government to improving the rule of law was indeed instrumental in our assessment of the State of reforms. And I am very pleased to share the floor with DPM Vućić who I want to congratulate for his political steer and determination in this respect.

However, this is only the beginning of the road and commitments are good first steps, but it is equally important to bring the processes to their conclusion. As Aleksandar knows, the European Commission stands ready to support the government in the endeavour to strengthen the rule of law by all available means. And we are not alone in this respect. Today's conference is a clear example of collaboration and commitment of the international community to assist Serbia. Let me pay tribute to the Council of Europe in this respect.

As reflected in our report, let me welcome the fact that the government has put the fight against corruption as a central element of its activities underpinned by a "zero tolerance" message. A number of investigations have been launched, including into high level corruption.

But Serbia's track record in effectively investigating, prosecuting and convicting perpetrators of corruption and organised crime needs to be further improved, and additional human and financial resources made available. This is particularly the case in the fields of:

-witness protection;

-financial intelligence ;and

-the special prosecution for organised crime and corruption.

The joint project which we are officially starting today with our colleagues from the Council of Europe and the Ministry of Justice, precisely aims at meeting the latest recommendations for Serbia.

Let me emphasize one thing: we are here today not just to attend a conference. This is not about the usual programming. This is an event which should lay basis for the progress necessary to open negotiations and it is part of our new approach to the chapters 23 and 24 – covering the rule of law, judiciary, fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security.

We are launching this program to allow Serbia's citizens to see and to feel the changes when it comes to their rights and the way they are respected and guaranteed. The reforms in the judiciary are about European values and principles: having functioning, efficient, independent and impartial courts. Having a system of justice where the main argument is the law and not the bribes.

However, back to where Serbia is now. You are currently finalising two key policy documents:

-The National Judiciary Reform Strategy; and

-The National Anti-Corruption Strategy.

The judiciary and the enforcement agencies must have the means to ensure that these key strategies are implemented so that policy goals are translated into concrete actions.

We learnt a lot during the latest European Union enlargements in 2004 and 2007. And one of the key lessons learned is that the two reform processes – judiciary and anticorruption - need to go hand in hand.

Reforming the judiciary without paying attention to preventing corruption is a recipe for disaster.

Developing an anticorruption strategy, without reforming the judiciary also has zero effect.

The European Commission believes that progress on the reforms concerning judiciary and anticorruption can be achieved in two ways:

First, through better legislation:

The best intentions and training cannot help if there are deficiencies in the legislative framework. Thanks to funding from an IPA 2008 project, the Anticorruption Agency has recently reviewed the corruption risk assessment in the development of legislation.

Let me turn to its main findings:

A) Key legislative changes occurred prior to strategic visions for the judiciary and the fight against corruption, and may need to be adjusted to the overall direction of the reforms.

B) There is a need for the harmonisation of legislation to ensure that problems are detected in the drafting phases so that once the legislation is adopted, implementation can take place and be effective.

Now, back to the second way how to progress on the reforms: through measuring results, from the start of the process until its end. This allows for comparisons with previous periods so that the best practices can feed back into the process and lead to further improvements. This project will help such measurements by developing a benchmarking system for corruption cases in Serbia, at both criminal and administrative levels.

These were the two main dimensions. There are of course many more elements:

1) We also need to focus on fighting corruption within the judiciary. The independence of judges and autonomy of prosecutors are pre-requisites to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial.

2) The judiciary must be independent from the executive and the legislature. There is simply no other option. Their recruitment, work and career development should be based on clear and transparent criteria of professionalism and performance.

3) On the preventive side, a strong anti-corruptive ethical component should guide their activities. They need tools to address potential challenges to their independence and impartiality including principles of professional conduct and codes of ethics.

4) Disciplinary procedures should be provided for and enforced. Serbian citizens should be confident in the integrity of their judiciary. Trust needs to be re-built.

Before concluding, I would like to mention the pivotal role of the two Councils – the High Judicial and State Prosecutorial Councils. As self-governing judicial bodies, they should be the first in defending the independence of the judiciary. But to be credible, there would have to be no doubts about their own integrity.

Therefore, international standards excluding any political interference in their election should be put in place and applied.

Let me make two final points:

1) political will remains the crucial element in the fight against corruption.

An expression of such political will is the adoption and effective implementation of credible and realistic strategies and action plans, with clear benchmarks and results to be measured. Serbian citizens need to know that no one is above the law.

2) This – the reforms in the area of the rule of law, judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime – are key elements for Serbia to achieve progress on its way towards the EU membership.

Last week a major step was taken. With the compromise you were able to agree with Pristina and our subsequent recommendation, the possibility of opening accession negotiations has come within your reach.

I trust that you will be able to use this opportunity fully; I believe it will now be possible to implement the agreement so that the Member States can feel comfortable enough to decide in June on the unconditional opening of negotiations.

Thank you for your attention.


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