28 October 2021 13th European Union-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) Meeting

28 October 2021 13th European Union-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) Meeting

Thursday, 28 October 2021

13th Meeting of European Union-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee

The European Union-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) held its 13th meeting remote, on 28 October 2021, under the co-chairmanship of Ms Tanja Fajon for the European Parliament delegation and Dr Vladimir Orlic for the National Assembly delegation.

The meeting focused on the state-of-play of the pre-accession negotiations and relations between the EU and Serbia, addressed in introductory speeches by the Serbian Minister for European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic, State Secretary at the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gasper Dovzan on behalf of the Slovenian Presidency-in-Office of the Council of the EU, Head of the Unit for Serbia and Montenegro in the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Catherine Wendt on behalf of the European Commission, and the Head of Division “South-East Europe and the Western Balkans in the European External Action Service Elsa Fenet. The parliamentarians also discussed the developments under negotiating Cluster 1 - Fundamentals (with a focus on Chapters 23 and 24, Judiciary, Fundamental Rights, Justice, Freedom and Security) as well as economic development

SAPC co-chair Dr Vladimir Orlic said that Serbia has continued with the intensive reforms, including constitutional issues, strong economic reforms and the implementation of agreements from the Inter-Party Dialogue. He added that the people in Serbia expected clear messages from the European Union on the issue of enlargement and that those messages would be positive. ''We are interested in a performance-based perspective. Nothing more, nothing less. And that is not only the dominant position in the National Assembly, it is contained in our state policy at the highest level. You will hear the same from the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, who heads this policy, you will recognise the same in every step of the Government that implements it. And a good example of this attitude is the recently published Serbia Progress Report: you saw, when a conclusion is made without any concessions, based strictly on facts, that the conclusion is positive for Serbia." He stressed that Serbia has made visible progress in the period since the previous meeting, as evidenced by the invitation to open two complete new clusters. He also presented the National Assembly’s work in this period, as well as the activities related to the Inter-Party Dialogue, confirming that the conclusions from the dialogue would be implemented despite the fact that some have left the dialogue. "These people were for the dialogue in words alone, and now they have gone into an open anti-European narrative, with the EP representatives also becoming their target. I believe that you now understand what we were saying when we talked about the brutal campaign these people are constantly conducting against the President of Serbia and everyone who follows state policy," he emphasised. "We have accepted to implement the agreed measures, which give even non-parliamentary structures rights not found anywhere else in Europe. These are the conditions in which we organise elections: according to standards higher than anywhere else in Europe", stressed Orlic. He pointed out that the term "hate speech" is not mentioned in the Report as present in the parliament, reminding all present of the front pages which call for the physical liquidation of the President of the Republic. "During the inter-party dialogue, we showed you the front pages of the media under the control of these people, which is a real example of hate speech. And when one reacts to that in the National Assembly, it is not pressure on the media, it is a reaction to something that is condemned everywhere in the world. Reacting to these things means protecting democracy. And the same people are now running a constant campaign against doctors from the crisis headquarters, with politically overzealous extremists coming to their windows, like they did to our party’s dignitaries”, he stressed, adding that these are the same people who organised the brutal attack on the National Assembly last year when journalists’ associations noted that the organisers had carried out more than twenty physical attacks on journalists.

Orlic stated that the delegation of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia has always emphasised the need to establish a Community of Serb Municipalities in meetings, which has not happened yet, and spoke of Pristina’s provocations and brutal violence in the last three months, including persecution of Serbian political representatives and civilians, use of live ammunition against unarmed people, in flagrant violation of numerous provisions of the Brussels Agreement.

Speaking of regional cooperation, Dr Orlic said that Serbia’s contribution to it is clear, for example, Serbia has provided vaccination, not only to its citizens, to the citizens of the region as well, making the journalists from both Serbia and the region a priority category. He also pointed out that the Open Balkan Initiative originated in Serbia, by the President of the Republic Aleksandar Vucic, and has earned its rightful place in this SAPC meeting’s Joint Declaration.

Elvira Kovacs said that this was the time to redefine the EU enlargement policy, as well as for Serbia to redefine and strengthen the credibility of the European integration process. In addition to the general assessment that Serbia's European integration is characterised by moderate preparedness with limited progress - the 2021 EC Report concludes that in the first half of the year the Government of the Republic of Serbia set reforms related to the EU and the rule of law as priorities and achieved balance between the progress in the areas of rule of law and normalisation of relations with Kosovo on the one hand, and the progress in other chapters on the other. In one sentence, the state of the talks between Serbia and the EU can be best described by the EC’s position that it is imperative to move from words to deeds, among other things, through the active involvement of our partners in the Conference on the Future of Europe. It is the time to redefine the future, and just as there is no future for Serbia without the EU, it is difficult to imagine the future of the EU without Serbia.

Dragan Sormaz said that the unstable Western Balkans (and it is unstable because it is outside the EU), contributes to the instability of the entire region, which also leads to an increase in crisis situations and incidents in the region, which the European Parliament members themselves confirmed speaking of the crisis situations in Kosovo-Metohija, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia. The only way for players other than the EU not to seek their place in the Western Balkans is for the entire Western Balkans, and especially Serbia, to become EU members as soon as possible.

Sandra Bozic reacted to Ms Tanja Fajon's statement that attacks on journalists in Serbia happen every day and as the Chairperson of the Culture and Information Committee strongly denounced these malicious allegations put forward for the needs of a daily political campaign. She rebuffed Ms Fajon’s statement with statistics and arguments, the official data of independent journalists’ associations which Ms Fajon often refers to. "It is precisely this data that shows that in 2021, and we nearing its end, there has been one attack on a journalist, precisely one, and that number has been a single-digit every year since the Serbian Progressive Party came to power. And if I am to stand firmly on the position of zero tolerance for violence of any kind, especially levelled against journalists, in the times of the tycoon regime, that number reached the three-digit range", she said. She mentioned some of the numerous results achieved by the Government of the Republic of Serbia in the field of media and security of journalists. She said that there are attacks and they are every day, but these are attacks by the tycoon media owned by Dragan Djilas levelled at President Aleksandar Vucic, and especially at his son and brother, who, I will remind you, are not public and political figures. And these media have the same rights and freedoms as other media in the eyes of the state. When someone draws attention to this behaviour, it is not an attack on the media, it is pointing out violations of basic human rights and the postulates of democracy, as well as entirely uncivilized behaviour which has no place in any country grounded in European values.”

Marijan Risticevic spoke about the influence of EU-registered media on the rule of law in the field of media in Serbia and the violation of the Convention on Transfrontier Television, Law on Electronic Media and the Law on Advertising, illegally taking part of marketing revenues from electronic media in Serbia.

Prof. Dr Vladimir Marinkovic spoke about security, stating that Serbia is an energy secure country and that it should work with the European Union on overcoming the energy crisis. He said that the supply of energy would be stable, which is important for the citizens, the economy and new investments. He expressed concern over the recent events in Kosovo-Metohija, adding that parliamentarians from the European Union should react more seriously to them and help resolve the problem.

Dr Aleksandra Tomic said that Serbia has achieved very good economic results compared to the macroeconomic indicators of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The results are irrefutable and exact. The EC progress report on Serbia states that the country has maintained economic stability in 2020 (0.9% decline) and is now experiencing a rapid recovery and high growth rates. “The IMF has recently adopted a GDP growth rate in 2021 of 6.5%, and we think we will end the year with over 7%. The share of public debt is 58.2% of GDP, while the deficit has been reduced to 4.9% and projected at 6.9% of GDP. To date, Serbia has attracted 3 billion EUR in FDI, with a 3% increase in employment compared to 2020. Wage growth in 2021 is 8.5% and inflation is 3.7%. With the rebalance, we have a record level of public investment in infrastructure - 7.8% of GDP, as well as in health, education, culture and sports.' Laws in the area of clusters 3 and 4 have been adopted and harmonised with the finances, as part of the "Serbia 2025" programme, in line with the transport, digital and energy transition. We issued a green government bond as a means to implement the Green Agenda. Good coordination of the monetary and fiscal policy of Serbia shows results that are primarily in the interest of all citizens", she said.

Speaking about economic development, Djordje Milicevic pointed out that, through reforms, we are trying to implement European standards in all spheres of life in Serbia. The results of the reforms should contribute to Serbia being a modern and orderly state, as well as to the betterment of the lives of the citizens of Serbia. The European Union is Serbia’s most important trade and investment partner and as such one of the most important factors of the country's economic stability. "In a year riddled with challenges and trials, Serbia has managed to achieve economic and financial stability through a responsible policy. Statistical parameters show that the pandemic has had less of an economic impact on Serbia than on other European countries," Milicevic emphasised.

Veroljub Arsic said that today's economic results are the result of the measures undertaken by the Government of Serbia in 2020. He added that most investors in Serbia come from the European Union, and the fact is that they would not invest in a country with no rule of law, human rights and freedoms.

At the end of the meeting, the participants adopted the Declaration and Recommendations.

In addition to co-chair Dr Vladimir Orlic, the 13th meeting of European Union-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) was attended by the following Committee members: Sandra Bozic, Elvira Kovacs, Jasmina Karanac, Dragan Sormaz, Milos Terzic, Marijan Risticevic, Dr Aleksandra Tomic, Prof. Dr Vladimir Marinkovic, Djordje Milicevic, Ilija Zivotic, Veroljub Arsic and Rajko Kapelan. In addition to co-chair Tanja Fajon, the European Parliament delegation included: Franc Bogovic, Petros Kokkalis, Vladimir Bilcik, Eugen Tomac, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel and Salvatore de Meo.

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