The European General Affairs Council welcomed the overall progress in Serbia’s EU accession talks and reminded that progress in the rule of law area and fundamental rights chapters, as well as normalization of relations with Kosovo is essential and will continue to determine the pace of accession negotiations overall, according to conclusions adopted on Jun 26.
In the rule of law area, the Council emphasized the need to step up efforts to ensure the independence and overall efficiency of the judicial system. It voiced concern over the lack of progress in the freedom of expression area. The Council told Serbia that it needs to pay particular attention to the full respect of fundamental rights, including protection of the most vulnerable groups, as well as the non-discriminatory treatment of national minorities throughout Serbia, especially in the areas of education, use of minority languages, access to media and religious services in minority languages.
On economic reforms, the Council noted the continuous progress and encouraged Serbia to further improve the business environment, tackle government debt and advance on the implementation of structural reforms, in particular in the energy and transport sectors, the labor market, the tax administration and public procurement, including the restructuring and privatization of state-owned enterprises.
The Council praised Serbia’s commitment to the EU-facilitated dialogue with Kosovo. It welcomed the long overdue start of the work of the Management Team to draft the statute of the Association/Community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo and voiced expectation that both sides will engage constructively in the process. The EU ministers also urged Serbia and Kosovo to swiftly overcome the remaining hurdles in the implementation of the agreement on Energy and all other previously reached agreements. The Council said it will continue to monitor closely Serbia’s continued engagement towards visible and sustainable progress in the normalization of relations with Kosovo, so that Serbia and Kosovo can continue on their respective European paths, while avoiding that either can block the other in these efforts.
The Council also reminded Serbia of the need to progressively align with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.
EU accession talks with Serbia were launched in Jan 2014. The country has opened 14 out of 35 chapters so far and has provisionally closed two chapters. The EC Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans said that Serbia could be potentially ready for membership by 2025 with strong political will, delivery of real and sustained reforms, and definitive solutions to disputes with neighbors. It noted also that Serbia and Kosovo need to conclude a comprehensive, legally-binding normalization agreement urgently but did not mention a deadline when this should happen.