At the beginning of the gathering, those present were addressed by the Minister of Justice, Mrs. Nela Kuburović, who emphasized that the public debate on the revision of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 is just beginning today and that, therefore, there are no reasons for the extension of the deadline for submission of comments on the first Draft of the revised Action Plan. The extension of the deadline, which was scheduled for 8 February, was requested by certain non-governmental organizations and professional associations in the previous days.
Related to the above, Mrs. Kurubović pointed out that all the suggestions and comments that reach the Ministry within the envisaged deadline will be reviewed for inclusion in the Draft, which will thereafter be forwarded to the European Commission for an opinion. Upon getting the opinion, the Plan will be revised in line with it and only then the public debate will be launched, the Minister, Mrs. Kuburović said.
"After the Draft is returned from Brussels, the Ministry of Justice will start organizing the public debate in the real sense of the word, which means that all the competent parties will be invited to submit their respective remarks and opinions, and round tables will be organized. Inclusiveness of this process is expected, same as it was the case concerning the systemic laws proposed by the Ministry of Justice", noted the Minister and added that she believes that the Ministry of Justice will, as promptly as possible, collect the suggestions that should be submitted to it by the competent institutions and the representatives of the civil sector. All of it, together with the already revised Draft, will be submitted to Brussels for expertise.
She emphasized that the preparation of the first Draft lasted for a year, since last February, through meetings with all those in charge of the activities referred to in the Action Plan, over 50 of them, as well as through bilateral meetings with individual bodies and institutions.
When the budgeting of the planned activities is in question, Mrs. Kuburović pointed out that that part of the Draft will be written after the Ministry of Justice gets comments and suggestions from interested parties but, at any rate, it will be included in the Draft that will be sent to Brussels for an opinion.
The Minister pointed out that, after almost three years as of the opening of the negotiations with the EU, the time has come to harmonize the deadlines originally prescribed, some of them even over-ambitiously, as well as to harmonize the activities that have taken place in the meantime, such as, for example, the adoption of the National Strategy for the Processing of War Crimes and the Prosecutorial Strategy. The Action Plan has been supplemented with those two documents. She mentioned that it is important to reformulate, in the revised Action Plan, certain activities in order to facilitate monitoring their implementation, and measurability of indicators for the attainment of the objectives that are envisaged through the Screening Report and through additional 50 criteria established by the European Commission.
„The Action Plan will not introduce deletion of activities that have already been envisaged, but only those that have already been completed and it will be visible in the actual text thereof. The existing activities will be either supplemented or new deadlines will be scheduled“, the Minister said clarifying that this is being done in line with the requests of the institutions which cannot complete the assigned activities within the current deadlines. In the first Draft of the revised Action Plan for Chapter 23, the amendment of the Constitution in the area of the judiciary is scheduled for the second and the third quarters of this year and, promptly after that, by the end of the year, the adoption of a set of judicial laws is planned. The election of new members of judicial councils is scheduled for the spring of 2020.
The Minister of European Integration, Ms. Jadranka Joksimović underlined that, in the course of 2018, an outstanding progress in the area of the rule of law was visible and that the implementation of everything that has been adopted will be even more visible to the citizens of Serbia.
Ms. Joksimović reminded of the entire inclusive and transparent process related to the constitutional amendments, related to the method of election of judicial office holders, and to the passing of important laws.
„Those are decisively important steps with regard to the discharging of the obligations of Serbia, not only towards its citizens, but also within the negotiation process, which is defined through Chapters 23 and 24, with are the most important ones for the overall progress of the state on the pathway to the European Integration“, Ms. Joksimović pointed out.
The Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, Ms. Mateja Norčić -Štamcar emphasized the importance of the Action Plan for Chapter 23 in the negotiating process and accession to the EU, because, as she said, it deals with the essence of the political and social tissue of a country as well as with the attitudes of the state and its administration, on the one hand, and of the citizens of Serbia on the other. „Essentially, this Chapter deals with how the key judicial institutions, such as courts and prosecutor’s offices, will ensure respect in communication with the citizens. It speaks about the right of the citizens to unbiased and timely court decisions, free from political influence, and also about the right of the citizens to legal aid, support and protection“ Ms. Norčić –Štamcar said.
At the opening of the public debate, the Head of the Negotiating Team with the EU, Ms. Tanja Miščević pointed out that the Action Plan for Chapter 23 is „a pioneer of inclusiveness in the process of the negotiations“. For that purpose, all should work in order to get a document that is ambitious but also implementable. By the revision of the Action Plan we want to produce a document that will have measurable indicators“, Ms. Miščević remarked pointing out that in the negotiating process we are expected to meet the transitional criteria in order to get the final criteria.
The round table was also attended by the representatives of all the relevant judicial institutions, the civil society organizations, as well as of the international institutions. What is certainly encouraging is also the attendance by almost all the representatives of the EU member states.