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Progress Report: Mixed Reactions    

Objavljeno : 10.10.2014. Štampa El. pošta bookmark
 

The presentation of this year’s report on Serbia’s progress resulted in a reaction that was not usual for Serbia, at least not until now. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić effectively contested the claims of the Commission about media freedom, and this at the height of the scandal with the removal of political talk shows from influential TV channels, for which he claimed that the government had nothing to do with. This issue aside, Vučić responded very positively to the report, thanking for the positive assessments and saying that he would have been “even harsher” than the Commission in the assessment of certain fields, while the opposition maintained that there are no reasons for joy. The report was also an opportunity for Serbia to declare more clearly its stand towards Russia, particularly regarding the demands that the South Stream is not built before the harmonization with EU regulations.


The authorities have welcomed this report, insisting on the stand that it represented evidence that Brussels recognized the efforts and the political will of Serbia, particularly in the context of the fight against corruption and organized crime. Corruption is widespread in Serbia and Brussels has been expecting positive changes in that regard for years now.

In his own words, Vučić read the report a day ahead of the government session at which the chief of the EU Delegation, Michael Davenport, handed the report to him personally and presented it to the ministers. After this session, Vučić said that he would have graded Serbia even worse than the European Commission in some fields. In this context, he cited the judiciary and described the situation by saying that there are almost no verdicts in Serbia that came into legal effect.

However, regarding the freedom of expression and the media, which are some of the key standards of Brussels, at the news conference Vučić presented the report in the most favorable light for Serbia, but spoke in relative, if not contesting terms, about the claims regarding pressure against the media.

Namely, he particularly stressed the grade for Chapter 10 – Media and Information Society, in which Serbia’s progress was estimated as moderate, while Serbia was praised for passing the package of media laws.

However, what is in the focus of Brussels regarding Serbia, but also regarding other countries of the Balkans, is found in Chapter 23, about fundamental rights. This is the freedom of expression, which was the topic of a number of scandals this year.

In this field, besides the positive grades for the changing of the legal framework and for progress in the investigation of the past cases of killing of journalists, Serbia was given a clear negative grade for the freedom of expression. The report cites concerns about the deteriorating conditions for the full exercising of the freedom of expression in Serbia, the growing trend of self-censorship, combined with undue influence on editorial policies and a series of cases of intervention against websites. Serbia is requested to investigate these cases.

In this regard, Vučić reacted harshly, saying that he only agreed with the conclusion that Serbia should investigate those cases, and announced that it will do so. He dismissed the claims about the government being responsible for the pressure, and cited the case when the government, after having been accused of removing information from web-sites, received an apology. He said that the government is being criticized “much more than some others”, but also hinted about influences on the media coming from other sources, including the organizations that advertise in the media, but also foreign embassies.

No South Stream before agreement with EU

At the joint news conference with the chief of the EU Delegation in Serbia, held after the report was presented to the government, Vučić also declared a stand about cooperation with Russia. This is another delicate issue for Serbia, considering the energy dependence and the stance of the part of the public that cannot be neglected about the importance of relations with this major Slavic country, but also considering the investments which Serbia was expecting from the construction of the South Stream, which are now not so certain.

Vučić stated clearly that Serbia will honor the EU regulations, while maintaining its relations with Russia, and that he will clearly inform Russian President Vladimir Putin, during his forthcoming visit to Serbia, that Belgrade is on the path of association with the EU.

This also applies on the South Stream and he stated that, although he believes that the contract is good for Serbia, even better than the contracts some other member countries have, the construction of this gas pipeline depended on relations between the EU and Russia.

He also stressed that Serbia, regardless of its relations with Russia, had done nothing – it had not even made a statement in that regard, in his words – to incite the conflicts in Ukraine, the territorial integrity of which it honors.

The Democratic Party, which was the main opposition and pro-European party before the break-up and the departure of its former leader Boris Tadić, believes that there are no reasons for optimism. The parliamentary whip of this party, Borislav Stefanović, stated that the report contains both positive and negative estimates, but particularly drew attention to the fact that the negative grades about the reform of the judiciary and about the poor state of the media are a cause for concern.

The anti-Europe right-wing Democratic Party of Serbia described the report as another proof that Serbia’s European path is damaging for the country. This party believes that the fundamental part of the report is the demand for the normalization of relations with Kosovo, which it considers as a euphemism for the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, and for the harmonization of Serbia’s foreign policy with that of the EU regarding Russia. According to this party, these two stands are the embodiment of the evil that the West brings.

Author: Smiljana Vukojicic Obradovic

Photo: Beta

 

 
 
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