November 27th 2017 –European Policy Centre – CEP, in cooperation with the EU info centre, organised a panel discussion The Weakest Link? Civil society as effective scrutinizer of EU accession process- constraints and opportunities.
A panel of prominent experts discussed the transparency and inclusiveness of the EU accession process, as well as the current state of dialogue between civil society and the state, with emphasis on Negotiating Chapter 23 (Justice and Fundamental Rights) and Chapter 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security), among them:
Mr Nikola Bizel, Head Operations – Justice, Home Affairs and Civil Society (Social Inclusion) in the EU Delegation to Serbia, Mr Srđan Majstorović – Chairman of the Governing Board, European Policy Centre – CEP, Belgrade, Ms Corina Stratulat – Senior Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre – EPC, Brussels, Ms Nataša Dragojlović – Coordinator of the National Convention on the EU, Mr Milan Antonijević Director YUCOM and Ms Sonja Stojanović Gajić, director of the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP). Discussion was moderated by Ms Ljubica Gojgić, journalist at the Radio Television of Vojvodina.
Mr Srđan Majstorović opened the discussion by pointing out the importance of transparency and good communication between civil society and the state. However, he stressed that this should not happen through press releases. “Communication through press releases does not contribute to the culture of dialogue,” Majstorović warned. He also pointed out that the process of EU accession is long lasting and involves many actors, therefore the results can only be achieved through cooperation of civil society and the state. He added that the lack of internal capacities should not be an excuse for the lack of a dialogue: instead, capacities should be strengthened and not used as justification, he stressed.
Mr Nikola Bizel agreed that civil society must be involved in the EU accession process. He added that the state must be ready for criticism coming from CSOs. “It’s not easy to listen to criticism, but if we avoid criticism, we avoid dialogue,” Bizel said.
The coordinator of the National Convention on the EU (NCEU), Ms Nataša Dragojlović claimed that the cooperation between civil society and the state is taking place in mutual benefit and satisfaction. She emphasized the importance of NCEU as a platform that can effectively participate in the negotiation process and offer the Government professional cooperation and assistance, given the number and expertise of its members. Nowadays, no negotiating position can be adopted without the NCEU: the government is obliged to consult NCEU and to submit the requested documents, she recalls.
“The government cannot talk to every civil society organization individually, it is necessary that this dialogue is structured,” said Dragojlović, adding, “The significance of the Convent is that now civil society can present a unique position to the Government. The ball is in our yard, as well as the manner in which we use channels of communication. “
Milan Antonijević shared the problems which YUCOM faced in communication with the Government regarding the chapters 23 and 24, taking the example of consultative process for constitutional amendments, which YUCOM abandoned due to unsatisfactory level of dialogue. “In 2018 we expect the revision of Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24. Civil society is neither involved nor informed about this process,” he stressed.
Sonja Stojanović Gajić also expressed her criticism at the Government’s account. Dialogue is not a two-way process, as it has always been initiated by civil society, she says. She reminded the participants that the Negotiating Team has not been answering for months to the questions that were addressed to them in the framework of the coalition PrEUgovor in relation to Chapters 23 and 24, and that communication problems exist for months. “Honeymoon in cooperation between civil society and the state in the process of EU accession is, in our opinion, over. The adoption of documents cannot be postponed for two years, and the state cannot expect us to agree in everything, “stressed Stojanovic-Gajic.
Corina Stratulat from the European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels thinks that transparency does not have to lead automatically to increased confidence in government and better public policies.
“Transparent decision-making is not the same as good decision-making,” she said, adding that there are many examples where the availability of information is not sufficient for public’s confidence, and therefore transparency should not be an end in itself.
The European Policy Centre reminds that the transparency and inclusiveness on the accession process are among the principles defined by the EU in order to implement sustainable reforms of the candidate countries on the road to membership. Serbia committed itself to these principles when it created the NCEU model of public involvement in this process.