Serbia will not rush to join the EU until it is truly ready

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Ana Brnabić: "The balance of media and journalistic rigour is important for us all. It is simply untrue to say the government is not open and regularly held to account by our national media, in all its forms." [EPA/ HAYOUNG JEON]

As Serbia heads into an election year, the rhetoric of political parties rises. In an exclusive op-ed for EURACTIV.com, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić writes that a fair election requires all parties to participate and present their vision in order to give people a real choice.

Ana Brnabić has been the prime minister of Serbia since June 2017.

Serbia is a nation in transition. In recent years, the country has passed several sound fiscal decisions, which have stabilised the economy, ensured reduced debt levels and allowed us to invest in a better future.

This has translated into better jobs, better education and healthcare, better salaries, pensions and standards of living. The work continues, but we are on the right track.

EU Membership is our strategic goal. Under my government, there is an unwavering determination to implement the comprehensive reforms necessary for EU Membership. Every year, we are making further progress across the spectrum of accession chapters and to date have opened 18 chapters.

There is more to be done, but we have accomplished a lot over the last couple of years. The reforms implemented with the support of the EU and the IMF are already giving results, even though we continue to tackle issues that were left behind by previous governments. Serbia was one step from bankruptcy.

Hundreds of thousands of people had lost their jobs. According to Verica Barac, president of the Anti-Corruption Council of Serbia, the media was “robbed” by Dragan Djilas and other people in power. This is the description of the old Serbia, when Dragan Djilas and other members of the Alliance of Serbia left power.

Serbia is no longer that country. Salaries are higher, the unemployment rate has fallen to single digits and is now on a historical minimum compared to over 25% back in 2012. According to the Financial Times, Serbia topped the 2019 Greenfield FDI Performance Index.

We ranked as the number one country in the annual study by fDi Intelligence – a Financial Times data division. Back in 2012, Serbia was ranked 92nd on a Doing business list of the World Bank. Today, we are 44th and aim to be in TOP 10 countries in the next couple of years.

Media freedoms are part of this discussion. We want to have free and fair media in Serbia. In fact, we need one. The government does not shy away from the tough questions, we are accountable and transparent. I know this is an essential part of our democracy and when we are challenged by the media to be better, I want us to keep rising to that challenge.

Our commitment to a free media environment is also shown through negations with Euronews to open an office in Serbia. I would urge those who do not see the strength of our domestic media and the role they play, to keep partisan point-scoring out of this discourse.

The latest front page of weekly magazine NIN with the sniper aiming at the president VučIć is just another clear example of the media atmosphere perceived towards the government.

The attack on Milan Jovanović has been prosecuted and the trial has started. I have personally met with Milan Jovanović to send a clear message that media freedom and freedom of speech are values that are undisputable.

The balance of media and journalistic rigour is important for us all. It is simply untrue to say the government is not open and regularly held to account by our national media, in all its forms.

I stand beside any journalist who is attacked for doing their job, as I stood by our state broadcaster, RTS, when their headquarters were raided earlier this year by threatening opposition protest groups carrying a chainsaw and gallows.

In my view, this process of reform and the preparations across all aspects of Serbian society are more valued than the eventual date of our membership. We will not rush to join until we are truly ready and capable of joining from a position of strength. I want both the EU and our citizens to have confidence in a future inside the EU club.

We are heading into an election year in 2020, so it’s normal to see the rhetoric of the political parties rise. Any claims to the contrary are misleading and seek to undermine that process. There are those who do not agree with Serbia’s ambition to become an EU member, and they should be honest about their intentions.

The annual EU Progress Report on Serbia’s accession preparations was well received in Belgrade. The partnership we have with the Commission is based on mutual respect and honesty. We need them to offer this guidance and support for us to keep moving forward and to make the depth of progress necessary.

In an election period, tensions can be high. On behalf of the government and our citizens, I ask that we all conduct ourselves with the respect and behaviour that a democratic process deserves. We must not increase those tensions, but instead explain what holds us all together.

That is why a fair election requires all parties to participate and to present their vision and give people a real choice. Those who claim to be excluded from this process are trying to mislead once again.

The truth is that they have excluded themselves, despite our best efforts to accommodate the wishes of opposition parties. The progress Serbia has made will not be undermined in the political debate ahead, it will be strengthened by it.

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