20 Oct Civil society in European Commission’s Serbia Report 2021

Belgrade, 20 October 2021 –

In the newest European Commission’s Serbia Report 2021, published on October 19, 2021, it was stated that further efforts are needed for ensuring systematic cooperation between the government and civil society. The absence of an enabling environment for developing and financing civil society organizations (CSOs), who are under verbal attacks, including in the Parliament, was also stated.

The Report said that CSOs and human rights defenders work in a polarized environment. The European Commission addressed the List case from July 2020 and findings of relevant international organizations related to it. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) expressed their concerns in December 2020 on allegations that the Administration for Anti-Money Laundering, by asking for private financial data of 57 organizations, media and individuals, misused available legal mechanisms to restrict the work of CSOs. Also, the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism of the Council of Europe (MONEYVAL), in its plenary session in April 2021, called on all members to ensure that the FATF Recommendations are not intentionally or unintentionally used to suppress the legitimate activities of civil society.

The continuation of the trend of attacking CSOs, that are faced with verbal attacks and smear campaigns from tabloids, but also in the Parliament, despite the Code of Conduct adopted in December 2020, has been confirmed.

In the field on including CSOs in decision-making and creation of public policy, CSOs are still concerned on the time reserved for public debates that is too short, as well as regarding their contributions on draft laws that is not being considered sufficiently.

Below are the full findings of the Report regarding civil society:

Civil society

A newly created Ministry for human and minority rights and social dialogue initiated a series of public dialogues. However, further efforts are still needed to ensure systematic cooperation between the government and civil society. An enabling environment for developing and financing civil society organizations (CSOs) still needs to be created on the ground, as verbal attacks against CSOs continued, including in Parliament.

An empowered civil society is a crucial component of any democratic system and should be recognized and treated as such by state institutions.

CSOs and human rights defenders continued to raise awareness about civil and political rights. This takes place in an increasingly polarized environment. In December 2020, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) expressed concerns regarding the allegations that Serbia had misused in July 2020 its law on the prevention of money laundering and the financing of terrorism with the aim to restrict or coerce civil society actors for their work and criticism of the government. In its plenary session of April 2021, the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism of the Council of Europe (MONEYVAL) called on all members to ensure that the FATF Recommendations are not intentionally or unintentionally used to suppress the legitimate activities of civil society. Verbal attacks and smear campaigns against several CSOs and their financing continued in tabloid newspapers, as well as in Parliament even after a code of conduct was adopted there in December 2020. Organizations and individuals that criticize the authorities in developments related to the rule of law, and increasingly to environmental protection, are under particular pressure.

The legal framework for cooperation between the government and CSOs is broadly in place; its implementation needs to be improved and systematized. A number of CSOs have reported that the time given for public consultations was still too short, or that their comments on draft laws were not given sufficient consideration and follow-up. In October 2020, the newly formed government created a Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and social dialogue. It took over, among others, the competencies of the 13 Office for Cooperation with Civil Society and initiated a series of public dialogues on various topics of general interest, gathering members of the government, independent bodies, international organizations and CSOs. The National Convention on the EU has continued to monitor and assess the progress of accession negotiations.

A national strategy and action plan to help create a positive environment for CSOs have still not been adopted. A council for civil society cooperation has yet to be set up.

In order to mitigate the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Serbia adopted a regulation on fiscal benefits and direct payments to economic entities recognizing CSOs as potential users of economic aid.