Through successful implementation of the Joint EU-Council of Europe Programme “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey”, citizens of Serbia have received tangible benefits and the programme has had a positive impact on the approximation to the European standards in the fields of justice, anti-discrimination and fight against corruption in the country. This was a key conclusion of the third Beneficiary Steering Committee Meeting of the Joint Programme that concluded in Belgrade today taking stock of the results of the programme over the past three years.
Tobias Flessenkemper, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade welcomed participants and underlined the importance of co-ordination and co-operation developed within the programme. “Countries negotiating accession to the EU, like Serbia has since January 2014, have started to identify the particular challenges in ensuring justice, fighting corruption, as well as in combating discrimination and protecting rights of vulnerable groups,” he said. “Council of Europe is particularly well placed to support its member state Serbia as it can draw on its standards, as well as the result of extensive monitoring and co-operation activities undertaken with Serbia since 2003. They form the basis of the joint effort of Serbia, the EU and the Council of Europe based on our shared values,” Mr Flessenkemper added.
On this occasion, Jadranka Joksimovic, Minister of European Integration stated that the Government of Serbia is continuing its reform process, important for citizens and the society as a whole and that it should lead to the full membership of Serbia in the EU. “The key to successful and sustainable reforms is in the rule of law as the fundamental value of the European Union, consisted primarily in negotiating chapters 23 and 24. These are, by scope and depth, the most important and most demanding social reforms and, accordingly, the Government of Serbia seeks to adopt best practices and standards that are in the interest of the citizens of Serbia through negotiations and partnership with the EU”, she concluded.
“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Serbian authorities, co-ordinated by the Ministry of European Integration, for having used the programme so effectively to reach a number of impressive results in the fields of rule of law and human rights,” said Mateja Norcic Stamcar, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia underlined several most notable results of the first phase of the programme. “A few numbers will illustrate what results we achieved: more than 90 legal professionals are now better able to respond to requests of mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, 40% of the labour inspectors in the country were trained in human trafficking issues, while the Expertise Co-ordination Mechanism of the Horizontal Facility helped with support to the most complex issues in the field of rule of law”.
Ms Norcic added that “the European Union wants Serbia’s accession process to succeed. Serbia’s EU perspective has been repeatedly confirmed and the new phase of the Horizontal Facility will be there to support the process”, she concluded.
Actions under the Horizontal Facility in Serbia have achieved many notable results. Important work has been done to help prisoners’ re-integration into society after their release and on improving prison psychiatric system. Some 400 patients in Vrsac psychiatric Hospital are now benefiting from individual treatment programmes. There are numerous achievements in other areas, as well.
Representation of national minorities in textbooks for primary and secondary schools has been improved. 19 pilot schools, 2150 students and 250 teachers worked on making their school environment more democratic. Under this programme, Serbian authorities also requested opinions of the Venice Commission on the constitutional amendments related to the judiciary and the discussion on these amendments was facilitated through the programme.
Representatives of the beneficiary institutions directly involved in the implementation of this joint programme of the European Union and Council of Europe, as well as civil society organisations, took part in the event.
The three-year Horizontal Facility programme runs from May 2016 to May 2019; it aims to assist authorities in the South-East Europe in achieving greater compliance with European standards in the following key areas: ensuring justice, fighting economic crime, as well as combating discrimination and protecting rights of vulnerable groups. In Serbia, 3.97 million euros have been allocated for seven projects, covering all the key areas of the Horizontal Facility.