The task I received from “Danas” to explain in 7.000 characters Chapter 23, the negotiations with the EU that will follow it as well as the current state of the so called Action plan that is being drawn up in Serbia seems impossible, but I will try anyway.
The negotiations with the European Union are being opened via special chapters which clearly state the aquis communautaire (binding regulations) at the EU level which Serbia will have to adopt. What’s more important then the passing of these regulations in the National Assembly or at some other level of decision making is that Serbia will have to demonstrate that it’s implementing these regulations and, thusly, that the citizens are experiencing the benefits that joining the EU offers.
Chapter 23 is composed of several clearly distinct parts. Firstly there is the matter of the judiciary and all measures which indicate that it is independent, that there are no political influences, that the trials are progressing in a pace that is found satisfactory by the citizens and that there exists a unified court practice in order to avoid completely different rulings by different courts in the same situations. After that, Chapter 23 will rate the level of the rule of law, the division of power as well as the fight against corruption at all levels, from the judiciary to public companies and local municipalities and trials meant to demonstrate progress in the fight against corruption will be monitored. In addition to these areas, this chapter also includes “Basic rights” which are for the most part already incorporated into Serbia’s Constitution in the chapter dealing with human and minority rights.
This where Serbia will have to demonstrate that it’s taking seriously the questions of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, gender equality, the right to privacy, protection of private data, religious freedoms and that there are efficient mechanisms against torture in prisons, psychiatric institutions, in detention units and numerous other questions. The work of independent institutions will be monitored, as well as pressures or, hopefully, support to their work.
Minority rights also come under Chapter 23 and that’s where the position of minority communities, affirmative action, namely direct support to these groups meant to improve their standing, education in the language of minorities, information, cultural rights of minorities, equal employment in areas where there are minority groups to add nothing else, will be rated. There are also clear criteria in the fight against discrimination which has to be reduced at all levels, especially in relations between the state and its citizens. The state has to clearly demonstrate that it respects minority rights and that it is fighting against discrimination of all minorities, just as it is written in the Constitution and the Anti-Discrimination Act.
When I mentioned at the beginning of the article the task set by “Danas” that this article shouldn’t exceed 7000 characters that brought me back to the “7000” action which, only a few days ago, should have commemorated the tribulation of the people in Srebrenica, which was declared before numerous international courts to be an act of genocide. Serbia will, thusly, in Chapter 23 have to demonstrate that it treats all victims equally, that the trials for war crimes are being conducted without interference, a high level of competence with its witness protection program, that there is cooperation between prosecutors and courts in the region and that atrocities aren’t being denied. In short, since the action “7000”, organized by the citizenry, was prohibited this will be analyzed from the perspective of freedom of assembly which I mentioned previously.
When we add up everything that Chapter 23 entails, the state, that is to say its representatives, will have to stop referring to “political will” and its absence, which is often used as an excuse when previously agreed upon strategies and plans haven’t been implemented.
Chapter 23 demands activities by the Government and almost all of its departments, most notably the Ministry of justice and after that ministries that have as part of their jurisdiction matter involving internal affairs, education, science, economy, work and social policy, state administration and local municipalities and many others. The National Assembly will have to pass all reform bills, demonstrate that they have all been discussed and it falls to the state institutions and local municipalities to implement these regulations, strategies and policies. They are helped in this by the Office for European integrations and the civil society in the broadest sense of the word, either by non-government organizations that analyze certain polices and provide information from the field, which they receive from citizens, as well as other parts of civil society, faculties and institutes.
That is where we come to the current position of Serbia in the process of European integrations, “screening” has been concluded (check Vujaklija to see if this word is included in the encyclopedia in the context of EU integrations), namely the review of compatibility of regulations and practices in Serbia with practices and regulations in the EU. At present the Ministry of justice is developing an Action plan for Chapter 23, which predicts clear criteria, deadlines for everything I’ve listed earlier in this article. It clearly outlines what laws need to be passed, which bylaws, how will their implementation be monitored, how will progress be rated in particular fields; by an increase in number of concluded cases if we are discussing corruption, by the Freedom of Assembly Act which is finally expected to be passed at some point in 2016 and implemented accordingly, or by the passing of the Free Legal Aid Act which the citizenry is waiting for over ten years and which is expected to be passed in the following months.
The development of the Action plan for Chapter 23 is in its final phases, we have before us the third draft of this document, we gave our comments on it, as did the European commission and numerous expert missions have analyzed its components.
Last Wednesday within the National convent for the EU, work group for Chapter 23 (I know, I know, I confused you with the term National convent, things will be made clear shortly), we organized a debate on the third draft of the Action plan. The National Assembly has traditionally been host to the National convent, a great number of civil society organizations, covenant members who participate in its work, were present. We herd the replies from the Ministry of Justice, the creators of this action plan, some suggestions were accepted and others we will send in written form, in expectation that they also find their way into the Action plan for Chapter 23, as a document which will be approved by the Government.
Minority rights, which fall under Chapter 23, will be dealt with separately in a special Action plan for minorities, which is also being developed and is in its final phases and will be ready for approval by the end of the year.
In the process of harmonization of domestic regulations and practices with those in the EU, when we are discussing Chapter 23, as well as other chapters, benefits will be reaped for the most part by the citizens, who will have access to stronger institutions, clearer procedures for the implementation of their rights. For its part the state will have to do much more in order to create institutions capable of bringing about all of these reforms and demonstrate progress in all the fields that I’ve mentioned.
In this process of European integrations we can’t hide any problems, because if we do we are hiding them from ourselves, from the citizens who have the right to live in a country with strong institutions, established procedures and equal practices.