Serbia: Preparing for a new role in development?

27 October 2014

Every October the European Commission releases reports assessing how countries that aim to join the European Union in coming years are progressing towards that goal.

Serbia

TRIALOG, a project that has worked on integrating civil society from newer members of the EU into European development policy and practice over nearly fifteen years, follows this progress. A new TRIALOG report looks at the current state of Serbian civil society and its involvement in development issues. I asked Rebecca, TRIALOG’s project manager to share her thoughts on the report’s main themes.

Rebecca Steel-Jasińska:

We decided to look at the situation of Serbian civil society in the context of the future enlargement of the European Union. Serbia applied to become an EU member in 2009 and started the actual negotiations in January of this year. As part of the accession process, the development cooperation and humanitarian aid provided by Serbia will have to be negotiated between Serbia and the EU. Serbia will have to adopt the EU acquis and set up national structures and legislation.

 

The TRIALOG project

TRIALOG has worked with civil society organisations active and interested in development cooperation in the accession countries of the EU and new member states since 2000. Accession negotiations have sometimes underestimated the task of preparing a new EU member state to make the transition from being a recipient of aid to becoming a donor as Serbia will have to in the coming years. Development cooperation and humanitarian aid cannot be treated simply as a box ticking exercises at the end of the accession negotiations. All kinds of stakeholders, from state officials and politicians to civil society and the general public have to be engaged in this process in order to achieve legitimacy and support for the country’s new role.

We find it encouraging that the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Mr. Johannes Hahn stressed during his hearing before the European Parliament that he realises “the necessity to prepare new members of the EU thoroughly for their future responsibilities” and the importance of “ensuring that all criteria is met”. As recent declarations indicate that the EU will not admit any new members in the coming five years, TRIALOG considers this commitment to the quality of the reforms process more important than ever. Civil society organisations in Serbia, as well as in other EU candidate countries, must become fully engaged in the formation of the countries’ donor systems and strategies and capacity building opportunities have to accompany this process.

Serbia country study

The study shows that Serbia’s involvement in development and humanitarian aid to date has been limited and that it is more focused on its own development, as an ODA recipient. This experience as an aid recipient could be useful though in terms of the institutions, frameworks and practices it has developed.

We also see that the most recent 15 years or so have contributed to a vibrant civil society sector that has an establishd working relationship with the authorities, despite some challenges in legal and financial terms. The expertise developed in Serbia’s post-conflict years related to reconstruction and transition to democracy has provided CSOs with valuable experiences that could provide important contributions to development cooperation. The report ends with a number of recommendations for Serbian government and CSOs as well as European partners.

These include making sure CSOs are properly involved in the accession process, encouraging both the governmental and non-governmental sides to engage with one another. Another import point is not addressing development cooperation and humanitarian too late in the process. These issues need to be tackled in a timely manner to ensure that Serbia is fully prepared for its new role. The importance of capacity building is also highlighted here, as is the promotion of development education and awareness raising in Serbia.

This TRIALOG Study on Serbia is part of a series of studies made on the EU candidate countries in order to assess the state of play in the negotiation process and map the civil society situation in the country. We encourage you to read the report and are always happy to receive feedback.

Read the paper: http://www.trialog.or.at/country-paper-serbia