The questionnaire and the Commission Opinion on the candidacy

Brussels, 31 January 2011

European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle received Serbia’s answers to the European Commission’s Questionnaire from Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković, thus marking a key step in Belgrade’s endeavours as a potential candidate for the EU accession to document all its efforts invested in order to obtain the candidate status and open accession negotiations. The delivery of these answers crowns Serbia’s 11-year long efforts to catch up with the European integration processes after the break-up of former Yugoslavia and a long period of international isolation.

Candidacy2On the basis of these answers the European Commission will deliver its Opinion on Serbia’s readiness to fulfil the EU membership criteria; based on the Opinion, Brussels will decide the next steps in the country’s integration process.

“Today is a historic day for Serbia. The exercise of delivering replies to the Questionnaire is a key step a potential EU candidate takes in order to become a candidate and potentially open accession negotiations” stated Commissioner Füle when he received Serbia’s answers to the European Commission Questionnaire from Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković.”

At the press conference, Füle said that Serbian Government has successfully completed the daunting task of answering some 2,500 complex questions within two months, which speaks of the dedication and professionalism of Serbian administration, especially the European Integration Office (SEIO).

“It is now up to the European Commission to assess whether Serbia fulfils all three Copenhagen criteria for accession”, said Füle after the meeting with Cvetković and added that they discussed key priorities for Serbia, such as the rule of law, cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, judicial reform, the fight against organized crime and corruption.

“I am confident that 2011 will allow Serbia to make other major steps towards the EU”, said Füle and announced his plan to visit Serbia in March. “Serbia will have to work on two parallel processes, and that is the work on the answers to the Questionnaire, and the work on the reforms and the Action Plan adopted by the Serbian Government”.

Füle said that the Commission intended to send expert commissions to Serbia in order to be able to complete the Annual Progress Report for Serbia by 12 October, which means that Serbia has time by September to fulfil its Action Plan.

Serbian Prime Minister said that Serbian authorities delivered the answers to the EC’s questions within 45 working days, and that additional questions from Brussels were also expected.

“Now we expect the processing of these answers here in the Commission, but Serbia will continue working in parallel on the Action Plan and the finalisation of the reforms, said Cvetković. “According to this Action Plan, there are important reforms ahead for Serbia, ranging from the completion of the judicial reform, the adoption of new election legislation, the abolition of blank resignations, to passing of a new law on assets”.

Candidacy1The ceremony in Brussels took place only ten days after the European Parliament approved the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which needed the EP’s consent as well as ratification by all Member States to enter into force. While welcoming Serbia’s reforms, MEPs stressed that full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) remains “a fundamental condition for Serbia to progress on the path to EU membership”.

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), which opens up trade between the EU and Serbia and holds out the prospect of EU membership, was signed in 2008. The EU’s Member States only started the ratification process in June 2010. So far fifteen states have completed ratification. MEPs have called on the remaining ones to do so swiftly.

The Stabilisation and Association Process is the EU’s policy framework for the countries of the Western Balkans region. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement is the final stage of this policy, establishing a contractual relation between a country of the region and the European Union. The Feasibility Study is an evaluation report that establishes whether a country is able to negotiate an SAA. The SAP is accompanied by a generous pre-accession financial assistance programme, called the IPA (the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance).

Questionnaire, see here.

Commisions Opinion of Serbia’s Membership Application

Key findings of the Opinion on Serbia

The Opinion on the European Union membership application of Serbia is part of the 2011 Enlargement package adopted by the European Commission on 12 October. The Commission concluded to recommend for Serbia to become a candidate country for European Union membership and to recommend that the country will be ready to start accession negotiations as soon as further good progress is made in one key area.

Political criteria

Serbia has made significant further progress in meeting the political criteria.  Serbia has a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the rule of law and the protection of human rights and minorities, which overall corresponds to European and international standards. Key pieces of legislation were adopted in recent months in line with European standards in the areas of electoral law, financing of political parties and relations between the parliament and independent regulatory bodies. A far-reaching judicial reform has been undertaken. A review process, meant to address initial shortcomings in the re-appointment procedure for judges and prosecutors, is underway. The legal and institutional framework for the rule of law is comprehensive, including in the areas of the fight against corruption and organised crime where initial results were achieved.  There are however a number of gaps in the implementation of this legal framework on which Serbia will need to build up its efforts.

Regarding the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association process, Serbia must be commended for having brought to a fully satisfactory level its cooperation with ICTY, with the arrest and handovers of the last two remaining ICTY indictees, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic. In total, Serbia has delivered on all 46 ICTY requests for handing over indictees. Serbia has taken an increasingly active role in regional cooperation and in fostering lasting reconciliation in the region. Following first results achieved in the dialogue with Kosovo*, it is expected that Serbia re-engages and implements swiftly agreements reached to date. Serbia will also need to achieve further significant progress in improving relations with Kosovo and implementing pragmatic and sustainable solutions that will facilitate the lives of the people.

Economic criteria

Serbia has taken important steps towards establishing a functioning market economy. Serbia has achieved a broad political consensus on the fundamentals of a market economy, backed up by a track record on implementation of economic reforms. It has been able to maintain macro economic stability during the global economic crisis. The free interplay of market forces has been developing. Economic integration with the EU is high.

However, a number of structural weaknesses persist which Serbia will need to address to be able to cope in the medium term with the competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. The business environment continues to be constrained by uncertainty. Foreign direct investment (FDI) started to recover in 2011. Against a gradual economic recovery, unemployment remains high and the social situation is marked by strife. The informal economy remains a big challenge.

EU Legislation

Serbia has further progressed towards aligning its legislation to European standards, particularly in customs, taxation, economic and monetary union, statistics, enterprise and industrial policy and company law. The analysis of Serbia’s progress to align and implement the EU acquis illustrates Serbia’s overall good administrative capacity and potential to assume the obligations of membership in medium term.

Despite recent progress in a number of areas, additional efforts are needed to align with the EU legislation and to implement it effectively in the medium term as regards freedom of movement for goods and workers, services and capital, public procurement, competition, financial services, intellectual property, information society and media, food safety, transport policy, energy, social policy and employment, Trans-European networks, regional policy, consumer and Health Protection.

Serbia faces major challenges in implementing and enforcing legislation. Although the administration is overall well developed and the judiciary is undergoing a significant overhaul, efforts to further strengthen the capacity to implement and enforce the EU acquis are necessary. Considerable and sustained efforts will be needed in order to assume the obligations of membership in the medium-term in the areas of environment, agriculture and rural development, justice, freedom and security and financial control.