By Bojana Milovanovic
If Serbia is awarded an European Union membership negotiation date by the end of the month, as expected, the country has a long list of reforms to complete to meet Union requirements.
The country’s legal system will be the biggest challenge, according to Dejan Vuk Stankovic, analyst and member of the institute for Social Studies in Belgrade.
“The legal system is our weakest spot. It seems so petrified, slow and antiquated that it would take at least a decade to reach EU standards. It is pointless to start any legal procedure here because you will lose your mind getting stuck in proceedings lasting years and years,” Stankovic told SETimes.
Stankovic said Serbian citizens increasingly turn to legal entities abroad, such as the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, due to the inability to obtain effective and timely justice domestically.
The Supreme Court of Cassation recently presented a report showing the greatest problems plaguing the legal system are the unequal distribution of cases and old, unsolved procedures.
The report specified there are more than 1.6 million unresolved cases, an increase of nearly 20 percent since 2011. Some cases have not been solved in 40 years, the oldest dating to 1971. At the Belgrade Court of Appeal, cases wait for three years on average for verdicts.
In addition, the report said the distribution of cases between judges is unequal, which means that citizens do not have equal access to justice.
The 2009 court reform has further complicated matters. Several courts were closed down due to budget cuts under the changes, and some citizens now have to travel several hundreds of kilometers to submit a case or attend a hearing.
Once EU negotiations begins, it will become obvious just how far behind the country is in some areas, according to Ivan Knezevic, general secretary of the European Movement in Serbia.
“Regarding the necessary legal changes, the most critical areas are agriculture and rural development, environment protection, financial control, the legal system and internal affairs,” Knezevic told SETimes.
The EU will also demand implementation of all regulations that have been passed, Knezevic said, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the situation in Bulgaria and Romania where many regulations were not implemented.
“Serbia has enough strength and capacity to carry out all necessary reforms, but should work on their strengthening,” Knezevic added.
Another challenge is reforming the education system, according to Stankovic.
“We will have to modernise our schools, education programmes and the equipment used in teaching. Our students are overburdened with theory, lacking any practical knowledge. People who come out of this education system will find it hard to find their place in the European work market,” Stankovic said.
Some citizens, like Belgrade pensioner Milica Trajkovic, 70, said they are hoping EU accession will improve opportunities for their children and grandchildren who she hoped will stay in Serbia rather than seek a future abroad.
“I hope our joining the EU will change some things. I do not expect everything to be perfect right away … but I do hope there will be more order in this country, and that there will be hope for the young people planning to live and work here,” Trajkovic told SETimes.
Others are sceptical about the fate of the EU, but still hope the accession process will bring positive changes.
“It seems the EU will fall apart before it is our turn to join it. However, I hope to be proven wrong, and the EU will bring order into our society, above all to the legal system to which I belong to as a lawyer,” Predrag Sotirovic, a Belgrade attorney, told SETimes.