Why is Serbia insufficiently commited to European integration, what are the attitudes of the public about EU membership and how much has Serbia progressed in terms of the Copenhagen criteria, were the topics of yesterday’s online debate on EU integration – between words and deeds. During the panel, which was organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Belgrade and the European Movement in Serbia (EMinS), the recently published results of the enlargement process analysis were discussed by Vladimir Medjak, analysis editor and the Vice President of the EMinS, Srdjan Majstorovic, President of the Management Board of the Center for European Policies (CEP) and Vladimir Bilcik, Permanent Rapporteur of the European Parliament for Serbia.
The Secretary General of the European Movement in Serbia Zvezdana Kovac opened the debate by asking whether EU integration is really a strategic goal of Serbia and why there are big differences between words and deeds.
Max Brandle, Head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s office in Belgrade, pointed out in the introductory part of the panel that the key to Serbia’s successful EU integration is in Belgrade, but that political will is needed to implement the internal reform process. However, it is equally important to respect the basics of the Copenhagen criterion. In that sense, Serbia has achieved devastating results, especially when it comes to respecting the basic standards of democracy and European values. Therefore, Serbia must implement the previously given promises as soon as possible.
The President of the European Movement in Serbia Jelica Minic emphasized that insufficient results had been achieved in terms of the rule of law, and that more efficient engagement of citizens at the local level is needed.
“The rule of law is the main precondition for the successful continuation of all other chapters in the EU integration process. However, it is necessary to improve communication with the citizens at the local level in order to hear the voice of those who would like to discuss other important topics such as decentralization and air pollution,” Minic believes.
The Permanent Rapporteur of the European Parliament for Serbia Vladimir Bilcik expressed concern over the violation of media freedom in Serbia, emphasizing that objective journalism is the basic postulate of modern liberal democracy.
“Public broadcasters must represent the public interest. Journalists are not there to meet the demands of politicians, but to ask difficult questions and inform the public. Only in this way a functional liberal democracy can be achieved. Unfortunately, words are a big weapon of politicians and we must use them carefully,” said Bilcik adding that Serbia needs a fundamental structural reform of democratic processes in order to join the European Union.
EMinS Vice President and analysis editor Vladimir Medjak agreed that a thorough structural reform is needed, but that the problem is that all indicators, such as reports from international organizations on the state of democracy, rule of law or media freedom, point to social change for the worse.
“We are constantly separating from the primary European values and there are no signs that this tendency will stop. I don’t see how it will be possible to withdraw manually with such an accelerated fall,” said Medjak adding that Serbia is at the same level as in 2015 according to political criteria, with progress in only six chapters in six years.
When it comes to the narrative about the European Union, President of the CEP Board Srdjan Majstorovic said that the current authorities send mixed signals about the EU and that such a negative narrative leads to a “boomerang effect” in public opinion, which ultimately leads to stronger Euroscepticism among young people.
“When you are continuously reconsidering something, you send mixed signals to the public. The problem with this narrative leads to mimicry of change which is a big risk, since our society is divided. Above all, the attacks on NGOs send a negative image when it comes to providing respect for the principles of fundamental rights on which the political criterion of the Republic of Serbia should be based. If you sit in a chair in the parliament and use your political power to attack members of non-governmental organizations, that is called cowardice,” Majstorovic concluded.
The online debate “EU integration – between words and deeds” can be watched here.
Our media partner is Nova.rs and the debate can also be accessed from their internet portal.