NCEU WG Meeting: Chapters 1 and 3 are technically ready for opening

September 15, 2020

23 July 2020 – Accession negotiations regarding the matter in the field of freedom of movement, right of establishment and freedom to provide services contained in Chapters 1 and 3 are ready to be opened administratively, but lack of progress in rule of law, as well as a lack of administrative capacities prevents further progress in these areas.

This is one of the conclusions of the joint online meeting of the working groups for Chapters 1 and 3 of the National Convention on the European Union (NCEU), which are coordinated by the European Policy Centre within the NCEU. The discussion paper “Free movement of goods – How far we are from the European Union” and the draft discussion paper “At your service – The position of advocacy in the light of EU law on services and freedom of establishment”, which will soon be available on the European Policy Centre’s website, were presented.

The risk of “informal stagnation” in the negotiation process

Speaking about the current situation in the European integration process, Nebojša Lazarević, a member of the Core negotiating team for conducting negotiations on Serbia’s accession to the European Union, reminded discussants that this year, for the first time, no negotiating chapters were opened during the last six months, even though five to eight chapters are technically ready.

“This year, the European Commission made a remark due to the lack of progress in the rule of law, which is worrying,” he pointed out and concluded that there is a high probability that we will not open any chapters by the end of the year and enter an “informal stagnation” of negotiations.

Strengthening capacities of public administration, including depoliticisation, is necessary for further reforms

Milos Janjić, a junior researcher at the European Policy Centre, noted during the presentation of the discussion paper for Chapter 1 that the document was created with the aim of helping business people gain better insight into the complex matter that regulates this area.

“From conversations with businesspeople, we realised that they do not understand this area enough, and for these reasons, an explanatory document was created, which also deals with the public policy regarding recommendations for improving the situation in this area”, he said, adding that medium-sized companies are limited in terms of available consulting services, making a document unifying regulations for Chapter 1 necessary.

The presented discussion paper states that in order to accelerate reforms in the field of free movement of goods, it is necessary to improve the administrative capacities of public administration officials working to harmonise legislation, to strengthen communication between the Ministry of Economy and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and SMEs (DG GROW), to invest in human and technical capacities, and to depoliticise those institutions that work in the subject area. The document also states that further efforts are needed to establish a clear plan and system for monitoring progress in this area by the Ministry of Justice.

The problem of harmonising regulations within negotiating Chapter 1 is the fact that this is a dynamic area that is changing due to scientific and technological changes.

“The problem that arises in this particular example is the paradoxical situation that the Republic of Serbia is still waiting for the adoption of EU regulations, which are already outdated at this moment. More specifically, while preparations for the transposition of EU regulations into Serbian legislation have begun, at the EU level, these regulations have already been changed,” it is stated in the document.

The importance of this area is evidenced by the amount of trade Serbia has with the EU with the European Union.

“Harmonisation in establishing the free movement of goods is a legitimate strategic goal of the Republic of Serbia, given that the European Union is the most important trade partner of Serbia; in 2019, 67% of Serbia’s exports were exported to the EU, while 58% of imports came from the European Union”, it is stated in the discussion paper.

Full harmonisation with EU rules on the provision of legal services is a great challenge for Serbia

A draft of the public policy discussion document “At your service – The position of advocacy in the light of EU law on services and freedom of business residence” was presented at the session.

Stefan Dragojević, a legal expert and author of the discussion paper, said that advocacy is a big problem for our country due to the need to harmonise with EU rules concerning the provision of advocacy services, as well as due to the conflicting interests of various actors, primarily the Bar Association.

“The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia explicitly states that legal services are considered a form of legal aid, while in the European Union they are considered services”, Dragojević pointed out, adding that this leads to norms of consumer protection in the EU being applied to legal services, which is not the case in our country.

“It is important that legal services are recognised as services in Serbia because lawyers in the EU have a lot of work to do and are very important for the European economy, which is why regulating the right to business residence is one of the key issues”, he said.

Dragojević pointed out that in addition to these, there are other open issues in this area, which include the question of who decides the amount of lawyers’ fees, the issue of the dominant position of the Serbian Bar Association, and the right of foreign offices to open in Serbia without the support of local offices.

We remind you that as part of the “Prepare for participation” project, within which the presented discussion papers were produced, an infographic, “From production to the market”, was made which describes the path through which a product from Serbia goes to the European Union market, which you can view here.

This meeting was held within the “Prepare to Participate” project implemented by the European Policy Centre, NALED, and the European Western Balkans portal, with the support of the EU Delegation to Serbia, with a focus on economic issues in Serbia’s EU accession process and encouraging the active involvement of civil society organisations in accession negotiations for selected economic chapters.

This was originally published on the European Western Balkans website.

Photo: European Council