The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee held a debate and vote on a resolution on Serbia on 1 March in which the granting of candidate status to Serbia was supported.
The lead MEP on EU-Serbia relations, Mr Jelko Kacin (Liberal, Slovenia) commented in the debate that candidate status for Serbia was justified by the progress it had made. He saw that the level of cooperation which Serbia has now with Pristina is a signal of its willingness to normalise relations; that the key issues that should be addressed now are the rule of law and the fight against corruption; that regional cooperation was good for Serbia and was pleased to see that Serbian relations with Croatia and Macedonia are improving; and thought that Belgrade has to play a constructive role in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Kacin believes the chapters on Justice and Home Affairs in the negotiations with the EU should be opened as quickly as possibly, so that Serbian citizens can feel the perspective of accession.
In the vote, the following points were adopted:
MEPs underlined that a genuine rule of law in the country is necessary in order to attract foreign investments and to improve conditions for faster transition of economy towards open market and to create a better business environment; to this end, they recalled that the existence of monopolies severely hampers such transition and called on the government to continue taking measures to abolish them. They also underlined the importance of removing red tape, enhancing competition and the role of the private sector.
MEPs drew attention to many reported irregularities, in particular in the fields of privatisation, rehabilitation process and of public procurement, and called for more active engagement on the part of law enforcement agencies to ensure their thorough investigation and bringing the perpetrators to justice. They called on the Serbian authorities to review immediately the controversial privatisation and sale of 24 companies, seeing that the European Commission found serious doubts concerning their legality, including “Sartid”, “Jugoremedija”, “Mobtel” and “C market” and ATP Vojvodina and to declassify immediately classified documents as State Secret regarding their privatisation and sale, as this is contrary to European standards. They also drew attention to the utmost importance of compiling a thorough and complete record of public property in order to provide a secure and predictable business environment, restitution of private property as well as to prevent illegal alienation of public assets by private interests.
MEPs commended the efforts of the government to develop a thriving SME sector through the adoption and implementation of relevant legislation and the establishment of administrative bodies in support of SMEs; at the same time they called for more efforts to facilitate the proliferation of SMEs by reducing the administrative burden, rigidities on the labour market and increasing the access to finance and urged the government to use a definition of SME that is fully in line with EU recommendations. They also called on the Serbian Government to introduce the necessary measures to increase cooperation with the SME sector in neighbouring regions and stressed that this is an essential prerequisite if Serbia’s economy is to be locked more profitably into the Community trading system.
MEPS underlined the utmost importance of the fight against corruption and organised crime including the recent adoption of several related laws, and encouraged the Serbian authorities to focus on their effective implementation.
MEPs noted with satisfaction that IPA assistance works well in Serbia, and encouraged both the government and the EU to simplify the administrative procedures for IPA funding with the aim of making it more accessible to smaller and non-centralised beneficiaries; stresses the need to maintain an adequate level of pre-accession support in the forthcoming review of the EU’s financial framework.