Inactive negotiation working groups do not contribute to unblocking the EU accession process

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) once again points out, as the formation of the 44th Government approaches, the necessity of prioritizing the issue of the negotiation structure in the context of the required revitalization of EU negotiations, which has not been optimized in the previous period and is now practically non-functional.

CCE reminds that the issue of European integration was not in the focus of the previous two Governments, although it was part of their promises. Valuable time and resources were lost in the unsuccessful adaptation of the negotiation structure to the revised methodology.

In addition to the lack of measurable results in reaching the benchmarks set in the negotiation framework, we also witnessed a rapid loss of institutional memory, loss of personnel who participated in the negotiation process for a long time and in a professional capacity. The new leadership has failed to establish its authority, and the negotiation structure has became just one of the victims of partisan interests and political maneuvering.

The passivity of the negotiating working groups (WG) also speaks in support of this. In accordance with the Free Access to Information Law, the CCE requested data from the Ministry of European Affairs (MEA) on the number and dates of the meetings/sessions of the WGs for all 33 negotiation chapters, from 4 December 2020 to 29 August 2023 (covering the entire work of 42nd Goverment of Zdravko Krivokapić and almost the entire term of the 43rd Government of Dritan Abazović). The obtained data indicate an alarmingly low frequency of these WG meetings, which should be a regular place for meetings and dialogues between interested parties on all issues of importance for our negotiation process.

CCE notes that during the 33 months, 163 meetings were held, which refers to 33 negotiation WGs (the number to which CCE arrived by counting each individual meeting.). More illustratively, in two years and nine months, an average of five meetings per WG were held, with some meeting only once.

Furthermore, out of a total of 163 meetings/sessions, more than a fifth (46 or 28.22%) were constituent sessions, while plenary sessions accounted for just over three-fifths (79 or 48.47%), and the thematic sessions were the least frequent (38 or 23.31%). Practically, some WGs had only one or two sessions after the constituent one, while some had only the constituent session and did not work at all.

More precisely, the most active WGs were those for negotiation chapters 24 – Justice, freedom and security (22 sessions), 23 – Judiciary and fundamental rights (17 sessions), and 30 – Foreign affairs (19 sessions). In contrast, minimal activity was recorded at the WGs for chapters 11 – Agriculture and rural development, 12 – Food safety, veterinary medicine and phytosanitary control and 26 – Education and culture, whose WGs had only one meeting each, and that was of a constituent nature. Similar situations were observed in chapters 8 – Competition and 25 – Science and research, whose WGs had two sessions each, both of which were constituent. Chapters 22 – Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments and 32 – Financial supervision followed with two sessions, half of which were constituent. The chapter 13 – Fisheries had three sessions, two of which were constituent.

The chaos, irresponsibility, lack of discipline and authority within the negotiation structure is also reflected in the MEA’s acknowledgment of the problems in drafting reports on the state of affairs in all chapters, as some WGs and ministries failed to meet the prescribed deadlines, or to provide the necessary information on the cross-section of the state of pre-accession obligations, and some heads of the WG do not even respond to to meeting invitations.

In the light of all of the above, CCE appeals to the decision-makers to initiate a dialogue and reach a broader consensus on the importance of the sustainability of the negotiation structure, so that it becomes an efficient technical-coordination-expert mechanism that operates independently of who is in power, thereby creating preconditions for a functional negotiation process.

Milica ZINDOVIĆ, Programme Associate