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News 22 Nov 17

Venice Commission to Insist on Serbian Constitution Changes

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission is set to take a firm stance on Belgrade's failure to adopt all the constitutional changes it recommended 10 years ago.

Maja Zivanovic

Session of the Venice Commission. Photo: Council of Europe

The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, will be involved in drafting recommended constitutional changes that it hopes will pave the way for judicial reform in Serbia in 2018. 

The council's press service told BIRN that its existing stance on Serbia's judiciary, first adopted a decade ago, will form the basis of future Venice Commission suggestions for amendments. Its initial recommendations have not yet been implemented. 

Serbia must amend its constitution to allow judicial reform. This change is a requirement of Serbia’s accession to the EU.

When the constitution was adopted in 2006, both its content and the way it was passed into law were criticised by the public and legal experts. There was no public hearing before its adoption.

The press service of the Council of Europe recalled that the Venice Commission adopted an opinion on the Serbian Constitution in 2007.

“Since the Serbian Constitution is very difficult to amend, the recommendations resulting from the 2007 opinion have not yet been implemented,” it said, adding that its “opinion is quite critical with respect to the provisions on the judiciary.”

“This opinion will be the basis of future suggestions made by the Venice Commission,” it added.  

In the document published in 2007, the council states that the new constitution had all the hallmarks of an over-hasty draft which at times did not meet its standards.

It criticised the lack of opportunity for its public discussion and said the procedure raised “questions of the legitimacy of the text with respect to the general public”.

The document underlined the excessive role of parliament in judicial appointments and pointed out that judicial independence is a fundamental prerequisite of a democratic constitutionalism and is “wholly necessary to ensure that the constitution is not merely a paper exercise but will be enforced in practice”.

In its written response to BIRN, the press service of the Council of Europe also said it had agreed with the Serbian Justice Ministry to send a former member of the Venice Commission as an adviser to Serbia. They will assist the ministry in drafting constitutional amendments. 

“The adviser will not draft amendments himself. Responsibility for drafting amendments rests with the Serbian authorities,” it said.

The press service of the Council of Europe added it expected Serbian authorities to submit the draft amendments to the Venice Commission for its opinion at a later stage.

The government must propose amendments to the constitution, after which they have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament, or 167 MPs. The ruling coalition controlled by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has 160 seats.

After that, a referendum must be held. For changes to be approved, there must be at least 50 per cent voting in favour (with the minimum being one voter more).

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