Some even claim that Serbia is a captured state and that of course is a reason of concern. It is clear that the role of the opposition is weakened by their boycott of the parliament. However, I do take note of criticism that the EU is not objective towards the Vučić government and is supporting his autocratic acts
Tanja Fajon is the new Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee. She has been a member of the European since 2009. As an MEP from Slovenia, she has been the Rapporteur on visa liberalisation for several Balkan’s countries, achieving a visa-free regime for Bal-kan citizens and was strongly advocating for Kosovars to also get an opportunity to travel around Europe without visas. She was also a Shad-ow Rapporteur on Serbia, raising attention on decreasing freedom of speech in this country. Having al-ways had harsh and critical rhetoric towards political elites in the region, some media called her an “MEP that sees what others do not want to see”. Tanja Fajon was visiting Serbia, and we had the opportunity to talk to her about further steps and plans, as well as her views.
You have been recently appointed the Chairwoman of the Committee for Stabilization and Accession of Serbia to the EU. What will be your priority tasks in this position?
— It is of great importance to continue the European path of Serbia and to allow its integration to move in a positive direction. I will be completely devoted to the accession process of Serbia into the EU. My vision is that the complete Western Balkan should become a part of the EU and it is important to work hard on that. It is necessary to continue with the reforms that Serbia started since it was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership at the Thessaloniki European Council summit in 2003. Continued dedication to reforms, particularly in the area of rule of law, good governance and economy, and establishing good neighborly relations are key for Serbia’s European future. These will ensure a better life for all Serbian citizens. As it is widely known, 35 accessing chapters need to be completed. So far, 17 have been opened and only two have been closed. Therefore, there is room for improvement especially with regard to the pace of the progress made. This will depend a lot on the willingness of the Serbian government but in my new role I will give advice to my Serbian colleagues while also supporting them in their reform efforts wherever I can. I will do everything that is in my power and try my best with the experience that I got, to help Serbia in accomplishing the accession.
How would you rate Serbia’s efforts so far in terms of the EU accession?
— Serbia is committed to its reforms and it has displayed crucial progress in some areas. I have taken notice of the positive economic development in the country, which has resulted in increased GDP growth and the reduction of public debt. Further, I am pleased to see the ongoing constitutional reform process in the fight against corruption and the cooperation that is taking place between the Serbian government and civil society to draft a new media strategy. However, it can’t go unmentioned that even when new rules and legislation are adopted, they are often not properly implemented. And, unfortunately, the practical implementation is what counts the most when the EU assesses Serbia’s progress. This is especially the case for the implementation of laws regarding the protection of the “vulnerable” groups, political interference in the judiciary and of the strong pressure that the Serbian officials put on critical media outlets. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to create more space for genuine cross-party debate, in order to forge a broad pro-Europe-an consensus, which is vital for the country’s progress on its EU path. It is a pity to see that no crucial progress has been made regarding the freedom of expression, which is a serious concern for the EU. These things need to be improved for Serbia to advance towards ac-ceding the European Union. On the other fields, especially when it comes to economy and market regulations, there is some progress, which is good. In addition to that,Serbia’s judicial system has some level of preparation. Some progress was achieved during the recent period. Moreover, it is also noticeable that there was limited progress in the fields of fighting against organised crime and corruption. Also, Serbia overall remained committed to good bilateral relations with other enlargement countries and neighbouring EU Member States and is an active participant in regional cooperation, what I find very good. It is of utmost importance that Serbia remains engaged in the dialogue on the normalization of relations with Kosovo. To sum up this question, it could besaid that Serbia is dedicated on the implementing of reforms on its European path, but in some fields, there is still hard work to be done.
What is the biggest obstacle Serbia has to overcome to become a full-fledged member of the EU?
— It is hard to say what the biggest obstacle is. The accession to the EU is seen as a path during which many laws and norms are harmonized with the European ones. There is not a differentiation be-tween though and easy ones. Rath-er, the whole process is seen as one package. Therefore, it is important for Serbia to be equally devoted to all chapters. Currently, we can see that Serbia faces problems with the chapters 23 and 24. These concern judiciary and fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security. Hence, of the biggest obstacles currently are re-forms on the rule of law. I hope that Serbia will pay sufficient attention to this and that it will work hard to establish the rule of law in order to avoid possible future setbacks on the European path.As we all know, chapter 35, which includes reforming the relations with Kosovo, also represent a great challenge for Serbia – but also for Kosovo that also aims to enter into accession negotiation someday. It is my hope that in the near future, both sides find a satisfactory agreement, from which everyone can benefit. This could possibly be the biggest obstacle, especially because of the current tensions. Nevertheless, as stated before, I hope that every side will have common sense and avoid further deepening of this issue.
Late last year, you said that there was a big gap between the EU’s documents on Serbia and reality. How are things today?
— The reality on the ground proves that the country is very polarised. There have been manifestations on the streets for weeks against the current government and I am receiving letters from citizens who are concerned about constraints on the freedom of media and speech and the limited space for democratic dialogue. Some even claim that Serbia is a captured state and that of course is a reason of concern. It is clear that the role of the opposition is weakened by their boycott of the parliament. However, I do take note of criticism that the EU is not objective towards the Vučić government and is supporting his autocratic acts.
The European Parliament has announced that it will mediate talks between the authorities and the opposition on impro-ing electoral conditions. What do you think of that?
— The situation regarding the elections in Serbia is currently not ideal. There is a need to conduct them in democratic and fair conditions, where all parties are equally represented. In addition to that, the situation on the media scene needs to improve. The current polarization of media and the frequent aggression on each other is unacceptable. It seems that both private and public media are not completely free. Therefore, it is important to create a level playing field for all political parties participating in the elections including having equal access to media and especially the public broadcaster (RTS, RTV). This cannot be achieved if the mainstream media in controlled by one side. On the other hand, the opposition’s boycott of the elections and the parliament would not be a good development and I doubt that it will bring positive changes. Regarding all those facts, my opinion is that the European Parliament mediation is necessary and that it will improve the electoral situation in Serbia. It is quite important that we, all together, the EU, the government and the opposition are striving to find a solution that will satisfy both sides and which settle the tensions in Serbia. In mid-November I will join the dialogue between the government and opposition.I do hope it brings the progress in the parliamentary dialogue.
What do you expect from next year when it comes to continuing the process of Serbia’s accession to the Union?
— Nowadays, we are witnessing that the enlargement of the European Union has come to a stalemate, which the European Parliament regrets. I hope that the situation will change in the soon and that Serbia will be able to continue on its European path with the opening of new chapters. The possibility of opening new chapters could be discussed in the next European Council meeting in December; however, it is difficult to make any predictions in this regard – as we have seen in the case of North Macedonia and Albania. Furthermore, it is important that Serbia remains equally determined to the implementation of the reforms. It is necessary that Serbia overcomes the current obstacles regarding the level of democracy, the freedom of media and fair elections in order to speed up the process. In addition to this, at the end, the pace of the opening and closing of the chapters depends on Serbia and its contribution to this.
Although this question is rather difficult to reply to, when we can expect Serbia to become an EU member?
— I would agree that it is difficult to give a concrete answer on this question. The European Commission has said 2025, but there is some talk also of a later date recently. I would not go into further forecasts and speculate with the years, because it depends on many factors and it would be irresponsible from my side. However, I, as a chair of the SACP delegation, will remain fully determined to bring Serbia closer to the European Union. My personal hope, wish and obligation in the next presidency will be to try to move forward on this issue as far as possible and if it would be conceivable to accomplish something like that. I see Serbia as an equal member of the EU and a part of the family of Euro-pean countries.
RELATIONS BELGRADE AND PRIŠTINA
Is there any chance that talks between Belgrade and Priština on normalizing relations will resume soon?
— I sincerely hope that there is a possibility for continuing the talks, especially after the Kosovo elections held in the beginning of October, which will probably see a new government being installed that will hopefully abolish the 100% tariffs on Serbian goods. That is important for the stability of the whole region. This is the only way in which both sides would be able to continue their European integration. Moreover, the European Union and the rest of the international community are looking forward to the continuing of the negotiations. And let us not forget that the talks between two sides are of great importance for the improvement of living standards for all ethnic groups that live in Kosovo. I think that it is best to overcome the burden of the past and to put aside the differences; we, all together, should start to look forward and to move closer in order to provide a better life everyone in Europe. After all, we all see a common future in the European Union.