The rule of law is at the heart of European values and is considered fundamental in the EU accession process, and reform in this field is never finished, a conference on joint EU and Council of Europe programme, Horizontal Facility, was told.
This is a joint message from the Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic, the Head of the EU delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi, the Head of Council of Europe Programming sector Delphine Freymann and the Head of Council of Europe Mission to Serbia Tim Cartwright from the conference held in Belgrade’s Metropol Palace Palace, which brought together beneficiary institutions of the joint EU-CoE programme Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey for a discussion on progress and results of the programme.
Minister Jadranka Joksimovic described the rule of law reform a never-ending “story”, adding that the same standards and same criteria are at the core of the rule of law. “As a candidate country, we are following the way the EU seeks to strengthen these rights in countries where there is doubt they are not in line with EU standards. The rule of law is at the heart of European values and reform in that area never ends,” she said.
Joksimovic reminded that Serbia had opened chapters 23 and 24 in July 2015 and since then, it has gone through several progress reviews, adding that decisions to open further chapters are made by looking at progress in said two.
The Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Ambassador Sem Fabrizi said that the “Horizontal Facility,” in which the EU had invested EUR20 million, was about Council of Europe and Serbia’s shared values.
The Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey is a prime example of successful cooperation, turning shared values such as democracy, the rule of law, social and economic justice, into tangible benefits for societies and their citizens,” Ambassador Fabrizi said.
The Head of the EU Delegation Sem Fabrizi said that the Horizontal Facility transformed the “principle into something tangible and sustainable.”
“In the process of EU accession, the rule of law is considered fundamental,” Fabrizi said.
Furthermore, he said that the European Union supported Serbia in the reform process through major activities carried out with partners such as the Council of Europe, adding that fundamental values are the reason why the reform process is so important.
The Head of Council of Europe Mission to Serbia Tim Cartwright said that the joint programme Horizontal Facility represented a “unique principle of technical cooperation and expertise,” adding he was happy to attend the second meeting dedicated to the programme in Serbia.
He agreed with Minister Joksimovic that the rule of law reform never end, adding that media are of vital importance, occupying an important place in reforms.
Asked by the press about the areas wherein Serbia has made the slowest progress, Minister Jadranka Joksimovic said there have been “objections to progress in the area of media,” adding that drafting of the media strategy has been restarted and that there is a “political will” to do so, noting, however, that “different interests are intertwined.”
She added that Member States have confirmed that sufficient progress has been made and that Serbia can now open new chapters, saying she expects new chapters to be opened would be chapters 33 (financial and budgetary provisions) and 13 (fisheries).
The three-year programme Horizontal Facility (running from May 2016 to May 2019) aims to assist authorities in South-East Europe to achieve greater compliance with European standards in three key areas: ensuring justice, fighting economic crime as well as combating discrimination and protecting the rights of vulnerable groups.
The conference was attended by representatives of beneficiary institutions, including the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Office of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, the Office for Human and Minority Rights, the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Office of the Republic Public Prosecutor, the Judicial Academy, the State Prosecutorial Council, CSO organisations, as well as the delegates of the EU Delegation to Serbia and the Council of Europe. The participants analysed the results achieved and brought forward their proposals and guidelines for the implementation of seven projects implemented under the Horizontal Facility:
- Enhancing human rights protection for detained and sentenced persons;
- Supporting effective remedies and mutual legal assistance;
- Strengthening legal guarantees for independent and impartial tribunals;
- Strengthen integrity and combat corruption in the higher education;
- Fostering a democratic school culture;
- Preventing and combating trafficking in human beings;
- Strengthening the protection of national minorities.