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Six years of delay in meeting GRECO recommendations

Transparency Serbia points out that official reactions from Serbia to the new GRECO report are inadequate concerning its content. Although GRECO stated in its report published on March 30, 2022,[1] that a more significant number of recommendations were met when compared to the recommendations from the previous one, it is not appropriate to treat the latest statement as a "significant success"[2] or as an indicator of seriousness in implementing reforms in the fight against corruption".[3] Had the commitment to these reforms been adequate, all 13 GRECO recommendations from 2015 would have been fully implemented by the end of 2016. Instead, the GRECO assessment shows that five recommendations have not yet been fully implemented more than six years later.

This is most visible with constitutional changes, where the opportunity to exclude the participation of the Minister of justice from the process of electing and dismissing public prosecutors, and the participation of the National Assembly in electing members of judicial councils as GRECO recommended almost seven years ago. On the other hand, some of the unfulfilled tasks relate to issues that have yet to be regulated by judicial laws (financing of the judiciary, criteria for evaluating the work of prosecutors).

As for specific issues, where Serbia received a passing grade from GRECO, it cannot be stated that the passing grade is fully deserved. This refers, among other things, to the praiseworthy assessments regarding the transparency of the legislative procedure, public debates on laws and parliamentary public hearings. Although the total number of laws discussed in the urgent procedure in the Parliament was reduced and public hearings were organized before the adoption of some laws, the fact remains that the urgent procedure was applied in cases where there were no real reasons for it and that public hearings were not organized to pass many important laws.

For example, less than two months ago, amendments to the Law were adopted under an emergency procedure, based on which 100 euros of aid was granted to young people (allegedly to reduce the harmful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic). When it comes to public hearings, they were not organized during the process of passing those laws that have been changed or passed precisely because of the GRECO recommendations (Law on Lobbying, Law on Prevention of Corruption).

GRECO apparently "looked away"  when assessed when it assessed that the National Assembly implemented the recommendation on the Code of Ethics. Among other things, GRECO requested that the Code be "effectively applied in practice". In reality, the Administrative Board has not discussed violations of the Code for six months[4], and when it did, it did not properly investigate complaints.[5]

The new Law on Lobbying and the amended Law on Prevention of Corruption in practice did not lead to the desired changes that were the purpose of the GRECO recommendations, even though they were formally implemented. Therefore, this report should be understood as another lesson that requires full commitment to meeting international standards and their use to address anti-corruption problems that were already known to us.