25.2.2013. CEAS representatives attended a public debate with Vladimir Drobnjak

Belgrade, 25.2.2013.

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Dušan Gamser, CEAS Adviser and Irina Rizmal, CEAS Researcher, attended a public debate held as part of Mr. Vladimir Drobnjak, Croatian Chief Negotiator with the EU and Head of the Croatian Mission to the EU, visit, held at the Small hall of the National Assembly on Monday, February 25, 2013, and organized by the Office for European Integration.

Drobnjak began his opening statement with the paraphrase „all successful enlargements are the same, all difficult enlargements are difficult in their own way“. Expressing his view of the Croatian success formula he pointed out to the existence of the same negotiating team since the very beginning, a strong political will and a National Committee led by the opposition, consisting of all political parties, representatives of the expert and academic community, etc. Drobnjak highlighted that negotiations are negotiations of the society as a whole, that they are ongoing 24 hours and that they do not leave any aspect of social life untouched.

He then pointed out to some novelties introduced in the period since Croatia began its EU accession process up until today. Among the first is the notion of ’benchmarks’, that is, the idea that it is necessary to fulfill all the conditions in order to make it possible to open the next phase in the EU accession process. Benchmarks are factors that individualize the accession process and determine its duration. Fulfilled benchmarks are the basic evidence of candidate state credibility, and everything begins with a screening based on which the European Commission and Member States decide whether a specific Chapter can be opened or whether certain measures should be implemented first, such as plans, strategies, etc.

As the greatest and most significant benchmark he cited the annual Progress Report of the European Commission.

A second novelty can be found in Chapter 23 which, according to him, represents a summary of the comprehensive political importance of the negotiation and accession process. Based on four pillars: judiciary reform, fight against corruption, protection of minority rights and facing the problems of the 90s wars, the Chapter represents the Copenhagen plus criteria. The problem is that the issues from this Chapter are regulated through wider legislation in general, in EU Members States, whilst specific issues are regulated through an individual framework, so there is no single rule or single formula to follow.

Drobnjak especially emphasized that negotiations are not actually negotiations as such, but are more polishing the legal and political framework of the candidate state in accordance with the legal and political framework of the EU. Hence, not a single chapter is closed permanently as long as the state is not an officially an EU member, but are only temporarily closed and can be re-opened at any moment, as long as the negotiation process is open. Negotiations are, therefore, a symbiosis of politics, law, technique and logistics.

Pointing out to the didactical value of the process, he emphasized the need for the negotiating teams to include not only experts, but also individuals who should gain the needed knowledge of the EU through the process.

Those present were then addressed by Vincent Deger, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, confirming Drobnjak’s statement that nothing is actually negotiated during negotiations, but that the candidate state can ask for more time to implement certain measures. He also warned that one should not delude himself that negotiations have anything to do with lobbying, but that they represent hard work and implementation. Giving specific recommendations Deger said that measures should be implemented as soon as possible, that nothing should not be postponed; that it is necessary to include all the relevant actors from the very beginning of the process, including the civil society; and that bilateral relations should not be allowed to influence the process and outcome of negotiations, but should be solved separately.

A debate was then opened. During the debate, Vladimir Drobnjak described some new mechanisms of the EU, such as a ’fiscal semester’ (adjusting budgetary practices of the candidate state with the budgetary rules of the EU), and talked about various aspects of the fight against corruption in the EU and Croatia.

The main conclusion of the debate is that the accession strategy should be realistic, even if it sounds weak, and not too ambitious as then it cannot be fulfilled, which will have a mark on the EU negotiation and accession process itself.

22.2.2013. Irina Rizmal, CEAS Researcher, attended a conference „Ombudsman – recommendations in practice“

Belgrade, February 22, 2013

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Irina Rizmal, CEAS Researcher, attended a conference organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM and the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, „Ombudsman – recommendations in practice“, held on February 22, at the Media Center in Belgrade.

The conference was also the final activity of these two organizations in the project Strengthening the role of the Ombudsman in the Republic of Serbia, in cooperation with the Professional Service of the Ombudsman, supported by USAID. A mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the Ombudsman’s recommendations created in due course of the project and tested on recommendations in the field of good public administration was presented. The conference included two panels. Participants of the first one were Saša Janković, Ombudsman, Benjamin Allen, USAID Advisor on government accountability, Marija Rauš from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, dr. Stefan Lilić, Professor at the Law Faculty of the Belgrade University, dr. Vesna Petrović, Executive Director of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights and Milan Antonijević, Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM.

Saša Janković highlighted that it seems that it is actually possible to change things with recommendations only, but that there is still a problem of about thirty per cent of individuals and institutions in Serbia who still think that they are above the law. Giving an example of the Netherlands, he pointed out that the issue of implementation, or non-implementation of Ombudsman recommendations are in the hands of the government over there, which ensures that the administrative bodies listen to its instructions and orders. In case the government evades this role for some reason, the Parliament takes stage with the same role.

Marija Rauš drew attention to the fact that that even the international system faces problems concerning human rights protection if there are no national institutions to deal with this issue. According to her, there is no official methodology for monitoring recommendations of independent bodies and their implementation. Emphasizing that by ignoring recommendations, the problem will not „spontaneously evaporate“, she pointed out to the fact that during the presentation of UN recommendations on advancing human rights in Serbia it was concluded that all of the presented points were already recommended by the Ombudsman, asking why these were not implemented instead of waiting for the same recommendations to come from international institutions.

Stevan Lilić pointed to the need for further developing the principle of good public administration and that the lack of a Law of Good Administrative Procedure leaves space for corruption.

The second panel saw Nikola Grujić, Lawyer at the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM and Nevena Nikolić, Researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, as members of a team developing the mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the Ombudsman’s recommendations which was promoted at the conference, explaining the research methodology and sharing some of their experiences in the field of forming the methodology as well as cooperation with the state institutions and ministries in the course of the research.

Those present were then addressed with representatives of some of the ministries which participated in the research: Jasmina Vasiljević from the Ministry of Interior, Helena Surlić from the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration and Ana Kosovac from the Ministry of the Exterior, talking about her time in the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Jasmina Vasiljević pointed out to the problem of a large number of employees at the Ministry which slows down the implementation and familiarization of all employees with the Ombudsman’s recommendations, but also to the fact that, in the case of MoI of Serbia, the Internal Control Sector enables a more effective response to the Ombudsman’s recommendation than it is maybe the case with other ministries. Helena Surlić highlighted that citizens do not always know who they should approach; that differences in the application of the rule book can lead to corruption; and the problems which can rise if the complaints to the relevant ministries are not recorded properly; whilst Ana Kosovac mentioned the problem of abuse of the right to complain.

YUCOM and the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights launched a website where various announcements, media texts and scientific papers on the institution of the Ombudsman and good public administration, reviews of the responsibilities and practices of the Ombudsman in other EU countries and an evaluation of the Ombudsman’s work by the EU can be viewed:

http://ombudsman.yucom.org.rs/

19.2.2013. Dušan Gamser, CEAS Adviser, attended a thematic discussion on the fight against corruption and protection of the minors as asylum seekers

Belgrade, February 19, 2013

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Dušan Gamser, CEAS Adviser, attended a joint presentation of two NGOs from Belgrade – the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCBP) and the Group 484 held on February 19, 2013, in Belgrade, where the results of their recent research was presented. It was followed by a thematic discussion on the issues.

BCSP has published a brochure, prepared by Saša Đorđević, titled „Civil society against the corruption in police forces“. The publication tackles the issue of an insufficient participation of the civil society organizations in the research into and advocacy of the anti-corruption struggle within police forces. Even though more than 30 different CSOs in Serbia use to deal with the issue of anti-corruption struggle in general, just a couple of them use to track the issue continuously. There are plenty of reasons for that, including the insufficient expertise, low internal capacity of CSOs and inadequate cooperation with the Ministry of Interior. CSOs in the field should permanently monitor the work of the police, launch the debates on the corruption in the police, assist in protecting the whistle blowers, promote integrity and accountability of public officials and advocate the concept of „community policing“. BCSP recommended more profound studies into all the aspects of police work, internal organization of the police or the police culture, strengthening of the cooperation with the investigation journalists organizations, more cooperation with the police trade unions, more active advocacy of the concept of protection of whistle blowers in the police (in cooperation with independent regulatory bodies) and an implementation of the concept of „community policing“, particularly targeting the prevention of the corruption in the police.

Group 484 has presented the results of their research on the situation and problems of the unattended minors engaged in an irregular international transit, including when those seek asylum in Serbia. Taken that the number of asylum seekers, including minors, is in the rise, Serbia should do more to regulate the field in accordance with international rules such as Convention on the Rights of the Child. In a brochure prepared by Miroslava Jelačić, the Group 484 proposed a number of policies, including improvement of the legal framework, more and better maintenance of the statistics on the issue, change of the procedures of the bodies in charge, as well as training and financial improvements for the institutions supposed to shelter the minors who seek an asylum in Serbia.

CEAS itself deals with the issue of corruption, including the one in the security sector. CEAS welcome the activities of other CSOs in the struggle against corruption in general, while especially in the police forces. Also, CEAS welcome the advocacy, by certain CSOs, of the improvement of the treatment and better protection of the minors who seek asylum, all in accordance with the regulation and the best practices of the EU.

19.2.2013. Irina Rizmal, CEAS Researcher attended the round table „Where is Kosovo today?“

Belgrade, February 19, 2013

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Irina Rizmal, CEAS Researcher attended the round table „Where is Kosovo today?“ organized by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia and the German Civil Peace Service Forum, at the Media Center on February 18, 2013, on the day of the fifth round of talks between Belgrade and Prishtina in Brussels. The panelists included Petar Miletić, Vice Predisent of the Kosovo Assembly and Secretary General of the Serbian Liberal Party (Kosovo), Adriatik Kelmendi, Editor in Chief of TV „Kohavision“, Henri-Giscard Bohnet, Director of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Ognjen Pribićević, political analyst and Zoran Ostojić, member of the Kosovo and Metohija Board and Liberal Democratic Party MP.

Petar Miletić pointed out that the Kosovo Serbs themselves have greatest benefit from negotiations as they are exactly the ones using the technical particularities agreed in Brussels. He also pointed out to the need to determine which institutions exactly are seen as parallel and whether these will be shut down, integrated or reformed. Pointing out that Serbs in the south have stronger ties to Kosovo through integration, he concluded that they actually live better than the Serbs in the north of Kosovo, that the number of incidents is smaller if existent, that the rate of unemployment is small, that according to the Kosovo Constitution the Serbian language enjoys equal status with Albanian and that the independent status of the Serbian Orthodox Church is secured. The daily incidents in the north he sees as manipulated and as a consequence of the buildup of the number of institutions which have no authority and are not in a position to establish rule of law.

Zoran Ostojić sees the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina as a process of either accelerating or stopping the European path of both Serbia and Kosovo. He sees the main problem in the lack of a real and honest confrontation with the past and a devious approach to reforms, characterizing thus negotiations merely as a play put on for Brussels.
Adriatik Kelmendi pointed to the need for Serbs and Albanians to realize that their populations do not and cannot live in ethnically pure states but that they are scattered across the region, assessing that Albania is currently ahead of Serbia in accepting this reality. He illustrated his rendition with the example of Serbs living in north Kosovo wanting to be part of Serbia and Albanians in the Preshevo Valley wanting to be part of Kosovo.

Henri-Giscard Bohnet acknowledged that Serbia continued its path of European integration despite the change in government. He concluded that the Western community as well is showing a greater interest in the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina, referring to the involvement of Catherine Ashton in the negotiations, as well as that Germany has great stakes in Serbia, starting from the largest contingent in KFOR, economic interests and the problem of asylum seekers. He welcomed the Resolution on Kosovo ratified by the Parliament, saying that such a gesture shows a wider consensus and opens public debate, at the same time giving a green light for continued negotiations.

Ognjen Pribićević said there is no dilemma that currently the most important condition confronting Serbia is the relation between Belgrade and Prishtina. According to him, it is also very important how Berlin will position itself, and how the problem of parallel institutions and jurisdictions in Kosovo will be settled in the following months. As a key factor he placed the reactions of Kosovo Serbs. Finally, Pribičević voiced his opinion that the European Union does not understand how important and urgently needed its active presence in the region actually is.

During the discussion that followed the significance of Germany for Serbia’s future, issues regarding institutions in Kosovo, visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens and other practical issues concerning both Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo were debated.

18.2.2013. Irina Rizmal, CEAS Researcher, attended a public hearing on the topic „Action Plan for the fulfillment of recommendations of the European Commission“

Belgrade, February 18, 2013

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CEAS Researcher, Irina Rizmal, attended a public hearing on the topic „Action Plan for the fulfillment of recommendations of the European Commission contained in the annual Progress Report on Serbia in the process of European integrations for the year 2012“, held on Monday, February 18, at the National Assembly House.

As keynote speakers, Milica Delević, Parliamentary Committee for European Integration President, and Milan Pajević, Serbian Government Office for European Integration Director, explained that the Action Plan presented is only short term, until September 1, 2013, and that the National Assembly should, by the end of February, adopt a longer terms plan for the next four years. In the meantime, the European Commission is drafting a shorter report on Serbia, focused on particular fields which should, alongwith Catherine Ashton’s report on the progress of the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina, form a platform for an EU decision on opening accession talks with Serbia.

Addressing those present, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, Vincent Deger, repeated that the critical issues in Serbia’s progress towards the European Union are judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime. He emphasised that laws should be adopted based on a previous, clear picture of the current situation, pointing out to the current practice of adopting laws on an expedited basis, with no public discussion and enough time for MPs to analyse the proposed legislation. As a second, also urgent matter, he highlighted the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups, especially the issue of the LGBT community, as well as the establishment of control over the workings of secret services.However, Deger commended the first signs of parliamentary cooperation with EU Member States, giving the example of a recent visit of the Greek delegation, calling upon the authorities to continue with this practice.

Those present were then addressed by representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Agency Anti-Corruption Agency, State Council of Prosecutors and High Council of the Judiciary, giving brief reports on the workings of these institutions, initiatives launched, fulfilled and future goals, as well as problems which these institutions are faced with. A debate was then opened, discussing the role of the expert community in Serbia which was not consulted nor engaged during the Strategy’s formation; the problems of defining corruption, lack of specific law enfocrement measures and coordination in the fight against corruption; need for public sector reduction; selective fight against corruption; as well as the fact that the Assembly at the moment has no working plan, or list of laws that are to be deliberated, adopted or ammended, no time for draft law proposal analysis, thus reducing the entire workings of the Assembly to improvisation. Based on the expressed views, Deger concluded that in principle, the basic draft of the Strategy, in terms of goals, can be transcribed from one candidate state to another, but that what makes a Strategy of one single country specific is contained exactly in the strategy for achieving those goals.

Those present were then addressed by Dušan Ignjatović, Office for Human and Minority Rights Director, explaining that nine vulnerable groups were identified in Serbia and that accordingly, nine expert and thematic sub-groups were formed, working under the auspices of one working group of the Office, with the aim of ahiceving the goals put forward in the Action Plan. He placed special emphasis on the work of the Office regarding the position of Roma in Serbia, highlighting the need for implementing anti-discriminatory laws primarily with the aim of protecting members of the LGBT population and those legally invisible. However, the Action Plan for 2012-2014 was pulled back for revision in January 2012 and has not been adopted yet so its adoption is expected soon.

Saša Janković, Ombudsman, expressed prtoest due to the fact that, according to him, attention is given to independent regulatory bodies only when foreign officials are present, whereas that their work is mainly ignored, whilst the percentage of implementation of the Ombudsman’s recommendations in other European countreies is 82%. He especially pointed out to the fact that the Assembly never discussed the Annual Report of the Ombudsman for the year 2011 last year, eve3n though this is obliged by the law. He also pointed out to the problem of decisions on his or the Commissioner for Information’s initiatives for new or reform of existing laws, being waited for for enduring periods of time and that it seems that the only way to achieve results is referring such matters to the Constitutional Court which will, according to him, happend in the end with the Law on Criminal Procedure and Law on Electronic Communications.

A debate was opened following Janković’s speech, hearing comments of the Commissioner for Equality, Nevena Petrušić, whjo expressed the need to address questions on equality all year long and not just ahead of specific dates, as is the case with the Pride Parade; Republic Agency for Electronic Communication Director, Milan Janković, who highlighted that the Agency is a fully liberalized sector, but that laws adopted by other ministries complicate the work of this regulatory body; and Jelena Trivan who pointed out the apsurdness of presenting a Strategy for fighting discrimination if the individuals adopting and/or implementing it themselves promote hate speech and discrimination (e.g.against asylum seekers) and support or fail to react to actions of right-wing organisations which call for lynch and compile lists of those „unsuitable“.

In the hearing’s conclusions recommendations were heard that the Annual Repor of the Ombudsman be urgently put on the Assembly’s agenda; that the greatest problem which independent regulatory bodies are faced with is the fact that they represent something that our system does not yet recognise, and thus they are excluded from the issues regarding them as well; and the conslusion by Sonja Lichet that the attendance of the hearing is evidence that this form of public debate is more than needed in Serbia and that the conclusions of this assembly should contain regular meetings as such, whilst the Council for European Integration should be re-established, for the needs of debating Serbian European integration, as representative of all sectors that are to be reformed in the Serbia’s further progress towards the EU.

11.2.2013. Jelena Milić, CEAS Director, took part in the Balkan Forum on Regional Cooperation

Thessaloniki, 7.-9.2.2013.

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Jelena Milić took part in the Balkan Forum on Regional Cooperation, organized by the Rockfeller Borthers Fund, in the period 7-9 February, 2013 in Thessaloniki.

The Forum recognizes that there is now a unique opportunity to create a new narrative for the Balkans, given the aspiration of Western Balkan countries to join the European Union, and the many people and institutions in the region that are committed to fostering economic development through regional collaboration. This new narrative would leverage the region’s cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity as a valuable asset rather than highlighting divisive issues. It would present the region as a joint market wherein people and goods can move freely. As a framework for considering these issues, this first Forum focused on four interconnected sectors where challenges are significant but the potential for innovative approaches and meaningful change is considerable: 1) Regional Educational Approaches, 2) Human Capital and Labor Markets, 3) Infrastructure and Tourism Development, and 4) Energy, Environment, and Economic Development.

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Over 50 Western Balkan civic and political leaders along with business professionals from the Balkans participated in this year’s Forum. In support of the initiative’s goals, David Burger, Deputy Director, Office of South Central European Affairs of the U.S. State Department, and Jan-Erik Enestam, Nordic Council Secretary General also participated. Learning from representatives of other regional models, participants had an opportunity to focus on the region’s strengths and comparative advantages, with the overarching goal of catalyzing regional development competitiveness within European and global markets.

During the year following each Forum, concrete ideas and initiatives that emerge from its deliberations will be further developed and supported by The Balkan Forum, a regional non-profit institution based in Thessaloniki. Each subsequent Forum will review and build on progress made during the year.

You can download a full transcript of the speech Jelena Milić delivered at the Forum here.