The European Commission's (EC) Report on Serbia was published on November 8 as part of the broader European Union enlargement package, which now includes a total of ten countries. The prEUgovor coalition highlights and comments on its key findings in the areas it regularly monitors. The Report shows that, over the past nine years, Serbia has only slightly increased its readiness for EU membership and consistently stagnates half-way on the reform path. In critical areas covered by chapters 23 and 24 (judiciary, fight against corruption, freedom of expression, fight against organised crime), it received a rating of 2 out of 5, which is the same as in the previous year.

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The prEUgovor coalition emphasises that the Report of the European Commission has, on numerous accounts, highlighted the importance of civil society for democracy, the protection of fundamental rights, and the support of vulnerable social groups. Therefore, it points out the unsatisfactory relationship between authorities and public institutions towards these organisations, starting from non-transparent and unfair funding competitions to smear campaigns, pressures, and attacks. The coalition warns that an atmosphere of intolerance towards any criticism does not contribute to a clear understanding of the real scope of reforms in the country and their improvement.

The reiterated assessment of the prEUgovor coalition on the protection of fundamental rights

When discussing fundamental rights, including the politics of non-discrimination, gender equality, and the prevention of violence towards women and children’s rights, the 2023 Report of the European Commission reiterates that the existing legal and strategic framework should be efficiently and thoroughly implemented and that the action plans (AP), as well as the financing for their realisation, are significantly delayed, and this corresponds to findings of the Alarm reports. This is especially prominent in the field of preventing violence against women. It is necessary to highlight that hate speech, threats and violence are geared towards numerous minority rights and human rights defenders, and they originate from, both local local and national, public figures, which was regularly documented in the Alarm reports.

It is of great importance to underscore that there is no improvement in the implementation of the Law on Gender Equality in educational facilities, plans, programmes and textbooks, as the revision of biology textbooks confirms, because of alleged “interpretations that contain ideological elements”. This was also written about in the Alarm report. We believe that greater attention should be drawn to the harmful effects caused by the growing movements against women’s rights and gender equality, especially in the areas of reproductive, sexual rights, and women’s health.

Concerning violence against women, it is necessary to mention that the 2023 EC Report stresses that the implementation of the Law against Domestic Violence should be improved, that the recommendations of the GREVIO expert group of the Council of Europe are still not put into practice, and that the all-encompassing response to all kinds of gender-based violence towards women, as well as the alignment of the terms rape and sexual violence with the Istanbul Convention (for which the Autonomous Women’s Center, within the prEUgovor coalition, put together a series of amendments as early as May 2022).

The EC reports confirm what every Alarm report has concluded, that there is little to no support for victims, and that the given support predominantly comes from women’s organisations with limited budgets and involvement in cross-sector groups. Therefore, there is a need for more transparency and public financing in this area.

When dealing with the subject of children’s rights, the lack of reports about the existing strategic documents is confirmed, as are the delays in adopting sector protocols for the protection of children against violence, as well as the fact that the Law against Domestic Violence does not enable every child that testifies or was subject to abuse into the protection plan.

Special attention should be brought to the use of all-encompassing policies for the protection of children against violence in schools, including programmes for children who commit violent acts towards other children or adults. Furthermore, it would be of great significance if the EC reports were to consistently emphasise the country’s obligation to ensure an array of services as means of support for children, youth and families, as was previously established in the Action plan for Chapter 23, but its realisation has been delayed for years.

The insistence of the EC upon Serbia to adopt a new Law on Juvenile Perpetrators of Criminal Offences and Criminal-Legal Protection of Minors, and the consistent refusal to give consent for the current law of 2005 to be brought into line with the Criminal Procedure Code of 2011, has contributed to thirteen years of minors’ rights violations, as well as the perpetrators of offences and the victims/affected parties.

Regarding procedural rights, the report reaffirms that the legal framework is only partially aligned with the EU and that the action plan on the rights of victims and witnesses of criminal offences is rather slowly implemented, especially given that the Criminal Procedure Code has not yet been amended. Despite this, the European Commission concludes that victims are guaranteed access to justice and the right to testify, mentioning the possibility of testifying via video link in courts. However, it overlooks the fact that the primary place for victims to access justice and testify is before prosecutors, where there are no victim support services, nor is their establishment taken into consideration. Equipping the special rooms for testifying via video link has also been neglected.

Concerning access to justice, the European Commission first highlights the need to raise awareness among citizens about the existence of free legal aid, and only later emphasises the need to enhance capacities and collaboration among various service providers. It also states that changes to procedural and other laws, on which amendments to the Law on Free Legal Aid depend, are significantly delayed.

European Commission’s Report is available HERE.