Serbia’s EU accession on CSOnnect Master Course agenda

REC Executive Director, Serbian State Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection, address future challenges and opportunities

February 21, 2017 | By Igor Kostic

A five-day master course, organised by the REC for representatives of organisations that are grant beneficiaries of the Environmental Civil Society Support Programme for Serbia (CSOnnect), got under way on Monday, February 20, 2017. Mihail Dimovski, executive director of the REC, and Stana Bozovic, state secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia, opened the event.

The REC executive director stressed his organisation’s awareness of the complexity of current environmental issues, which call for the implementation of big changes and the technical competence of all actors involved in the process. While the comprehensive and highly developed body of EU legislation includes a large number of standards and regulations, Serbia has started along the road towards compliance with EU legal norms — and is making good progress. Chapter 27, which concerns the environment, has not yet been opened, but Dimovski stated his belief that this chapter will soon become the focus of negotiations between the EU and Serbia.

“The aims of this master course are to provide representatives of civil society with a specific set of knowledge and skills, to facilitate discussion among the participants, and to provide impetus for motivating society to actively participate in the complex negotiations on Serbia’s EU accession,” Dimovski told the participants. “Positive outcomes from this training process can have highly positive impacts for Serbian society — not only for the country’s private and technical sectors, but for the public sector as well.”

While the Serbian Government is in charge of managing the negotiation process, it is important that civil society organisations (CSOs) have the opportunity to take part and make their contributions to the accession process and the implementation of Serbian legislation. This training will enable the participants to enter into more effective discussions about national legislation with the relevant authorities.

During the training course, participants will learn about the state of affairs and Serbian legislation as it existed prior to the start of negotiations. They will also learn about Lithuania’s experience with the EU accession negotiation process, and about the special characteristics of that process. One of the key lessons that the participants will learn is that CSOs have an important role to play in introducing and explaining numerous EU directives to their communities, and preparing them for what they involve and require.

“I have participated in monitoring, implementation and the transposition of laws in the field of the environmental pollution,” Dimovski explained, “so I am quite familiar with the numerous problems and difficulties of the negotiating process.”

The REC executive director went on to congratulate the representatives of the authorities on their hard work in this process, saying he hopes that Chapter 27 — which he fully supports — will be opened soon.

State secretary Bozovic expressed her support for REC activities in general, and the master course in particular. She noted that the course will involve the presentation of strategic documents, plans from ministries, and the present status of the negotiating process — and its weak spots, which include a lack of human and administrative capacities, and problems related to current funding mechanisms.

“’Environment’ is a demanding negotiating chapter,” Bozovic said, “and requires great levels of preparation and commitment. For implementation to be successful it will be necessary to include all sectors of Serbia. The period behind us was difficult, but we are motivated to continue with support from both the European Commission and our colleagues in government. We are motived to work harder and faster, since this is important for all citizens of Serbia.”

“We have inherited many problems from the former fund that we still have to deal with today,” the state secretary added, “and apart from that we still have to secure large funds. We also need to reform our environmental inspection regime, a process for which we have received huge help from the Government of Sweden.

Bozovic stated that she expects Serbia to be invited to submit its negotiating position in June 2017, without opening benchmarks, adding that the negotiating group is ready for the assignment: “We have received useful suggestions from the Directorate-General for the Environment of the European Commission. It is necessary to take into consideration all the questions that member states have sent to us, and to inform the public on our achievements in all areas—water management, waste management, industrial pollution, the green fund. One of the basic preconditions, apart from project work, will be to involve the broader spectrum of all interested parties and citizens in the process.”

Within the three-year CSOnnect project, the REC has launched a new, innovative approach for environmental CSOs by providing them with the leadership skills and tools necessary to tackle key challenges in Serbia’s future EU accession negotiations. In the coming period, the CSOnnect project will work to strengthen capacities and enhance the positioning — or repositioning — of CSOs through the use of unique programme components, including institutional (i.e. financial) support and “helpdesk” services. The REC will also proceed with establishing communication channels between CSOs and relevant institutions involved in the environment, as well as international partners and European networks of CSOs.

Funding for the CSOnnect programme comes from the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

TAGS: Serbia | EU accession | Environmental law | Environmental monitoring | Civil society | CSOs