Agreeing on reality is the only way for all stakeholders to move forward on the European integration process, concluded the participants of the third conference organised on Monday within the project “Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Old Tools for New Rules”.
The project is implemented by the Politikon Network in cooperation with the Centre for Contemporary Politics and with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Serbia and Montenegro.
Nemanja Todorović Štiplija, Executive Director of the Centre for Contemporary Politics, stressed the importance of the project due to the fact that the rule of law reform represents the main condition within their European integration process.
Anne-Sietske Brinks, Deputy Head of Mission at the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands in Belgrade, highlighted that the Netherlands supports Western Balkan countries on their path to the European Union. Accordingly, she explained how important is for the Western Balkans to continue working on strengthening the rule of law in the region since it represents the basis of the European integration process.
“The rule of law is the basis for any functioning system”, she noted and added that it represents “one of the cornerstones of Netherlands engagement in Serbia, in the region, and within the EU”.
Brinks stated that, in order to achieve success, there should be constant consultations on how to improve reforms in this area.
“We need to keep learning because societies are changing and developments are changing and the enlargement process needs to be responsive,” she said, adding that debates on how to improve current mechanisms are very useful since they include different participants and their perspectives which helps the entire process.
Zoran Nechev, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” and Member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), talked about changes in North Macedonia initiated by the Priebe Reports and reasons for success achieved by using this mechanism.
“What was great in the Priebe Report is the fact that it cited direct causes of the problems and then provides recommendation on how to move forward,” he said.
Nechev explained that the advantages of these reports were that they were concrete, public and written in language that everybody could understand, adding that it helped a lot that these reports were published at the right time.
Still, he stressed that the most important for the implementation of changes was the political will.
“In the end, it is also up to the political will to implement the recommendations”, Nechev concluded.
Aleksandar Ivković, Researcher at the Centre for Contemporary Politics, noted that mechanisms similar to the Priebe Report could be used in Serbia for concrete problems, such as media capture, in order to explain its main causes.
He added that to achieve true rule of law reform in the region, Western Balkan countries should do their job, but European Union should be more precise in its instruments as well.
“More clear steps on what should be done must be defined by the European Union, as well as steps that will be taken if what was asked is not fulfilled”, he explains.
Ivković pointed out that due to the lack of precise explanation from the EU on why the progress has not been made in Serbia for almost two years, public officials have the opportunity to create their own narrative. To resolve that issue, he proposed more clear guidance.
“With more clear guidance by the EU, all public officials would have to adjust their behavior to what EU conclusions say”, he states.
Jovana Marović, Executive Director at Politikon Network and Member of BiEPAG, agreed that EU mechanisms should be more concrete.
“What we suggested within this project is that non-papers should be used as an early warning mechanism, as an alarm. These reports should show that something is not functioning and then they should provide solutions on how to fix that”, she states.
Furthermore, Marović represented the current state of the European integration process of Montenegro.
“The current government, unlike the previous one, which did not have the political will but had more knowledge about the European integration process and which made technical progress, has the will but lacks capacity”, she explained, adding that due to that it is hard to make progress.
As Marović said, one of the biggest obstacles on the Montenegro path to the EU is the judiciary and political influence of the previous ruling party that makes reforms in this area hard.
Jovana Spremo, Advisor on European Integration at Belgrade-based YUCOM, explained that, when it comes to the judiciary, the situation is even worse in Serbia.
“Legal and constitutional solutions in Serbia have captured the judiciary and made it susceptible to influence by authorities and, because of that, independent action of prosecutors is almost absolutely impossible”, she noted.
She pointed out that since the beginning of implementing changes within the judiciary, there has been a stagnation in the area of rule of law reform in Serbia.
Spremo added that more concrete solutions recommended by the EU are necessary, but warns that even in that case the progress is not guaranteed. It all depends on the interest of the public officials.
“Here, the conditions will not be fulfilled if there is no political will of the public officials. But if they can find their own interest by fulfilling the conditions, then it will be done without any problem in a few minutes, no matter the opinion of civil society and experts”, she concluded.