The report, writes Cramon-Taubadel, is a “blatant example of how rule of law standards can be compromised under a Commissioner representing Viktor Orbán’s ideology.”
In his capacity as a Hungarian diplomat, Várhelyi is also the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement. Among the many functions of this role, this means that Várhelyi is tasked with overseeing the integration process of the Western Balkans.
The latest Commissioner report on Serbia, published in October, assesses the country’s preparedness to join the EU. According to Cramon-Taubadel, the 2021 document fails to condemn Serbia for interfering with the independence of its judiciary- particularly regarding the State Prosecutorial Council.
This is in direct opposition to the principle of rule of law as the “essence of the EU legal order,” Cramon-Taubadel writes.
In its 2014 Screening report of Serbian judiciary, the European Commission stated that prosecutors must represent at least half of the State Prosecutorial Council to avoid politicisation concerns. This latest Commissioner report, says Cramon-Taubadel, fails to criticise a constitutional amendment proposal which would see only five prosecutors out of 11 members elected to the State Prosecutorial Council.
Moreover, one day before the publication of the Progress report, the Venice Commission issued a criticism of the solution, explicitly recommending that prosecutors make up six out of 11 members. It also recommended that the Minister and Chief Prosecutor not be members of the Prosecutorial Council.
According to Cramon-Taubadel, the Commission must restore its credibility and investigate political ties within its own ranks.
Serbia’s opposition parties, non-government organisations and independent media outlets are under increasing pressure from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party amid rising concerns for constitutional freedoms. International media platforms like Twitter have also outed escalating online activity by the Serbian Progressive Party; in 2020, the platform deleted nearly 9,000 accounts used to fraudulently promote the ruling party.
At the same time, draft electoral reforms purportedly meant to improve the fairness of the 2022 elections were criticised by opposition parties in September.
“[They do] not contain clear mechanisms that would enable respect for the law,” said the head of Serbia’s Party of Freedom and Justice, former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas, at the time.
This year’s Commission report has been found by the monitor prEUgovor to have conducted a limited evaluation.