news 29 Sep 15

Serbia’s EU Plan for Freedom of Information Criticised

Serbia’s information commissioner said the government’s plan for freedom of information and data protection will not satisfy EU requirements in the membership accession talks.

Igor Jovanovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Rodoljub Sabic, Serbian Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Sasa Jankovic, Serbian Ombudsman. | Photo by Beta

Serbia’s Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, Rodoljub Sabic, told BIRN that the government’s action plan for opening Chapter 23 in its EU accession talks - on the rule of law - was not good enough.

Sabic said that the sections about freedom of access to information of public importance and personal data protection would not satisfy the EU.

“This version of the action plan for Chapter 23 does not mention the adoption of the action plan for implementation of the strategy for protection of personal data. The government is five years late with the [personal data protection] strategy and without its adoption and implementation, any serious progress in this area is not realistic,” Sabic said.

Chapter 23 is one of the most important in the body of EU legislation that any candidate country needs to adopt as it seeks membership.

It defines the deadlines for the reforms that Serbia needs to take in the areas of justice, fundamental rights and the fight against corruption in order to harmonise its legislation with the EU standards.

But Sabic said the government’s action plan also failed to define the deadline for the adoption of regulations on the protection of sensitive information.

“The government was legally obliged to adopt that regulation six years ago and they failed. In this action plan, the new deadline was not even set for the adoption of that regulation,” he said.

“Maybe Serbia will be allowed to open Chapter 23 in the talks with the EU. But opening the chapters is not the ultimate goal, the country has to be able to conclude them. With this plan in the area of freedom of access to information of public importance and personal data protection, we will not be able to do it,” he added.

Sabic also said that Serbia has to improve its regulations on the free access to information regardless of the EU accession process, as it is a basic right.

According to BIRN’s sources within the EU, the Serbian government’s action plan is still being considered by European Commission, which will decide soon if it is in line with EU standards.

Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic said on Monday that Serbia has a good legal framework on free access to information but faces difficulties when it come to the implementation.

“I am not sure we can be happy about how quickly and how easily Serbian citizens can access information about the work and decisions that the government and other public authorities make,” Jankovic told reporters.

He added that the authorities often try to avoid their obligations to provide free access to information, and that those who do not provide it are often not penalised.

“I would like to warn against certain tendencies in recent months, particularly from the executive authorities, to introduce new conditions and new restrictions when it comes to the freedom of access to information of public importance,” Jankovic said.

The European Council granted Serbia EU candidate status on March 1, 2012. In June 2013, the EU decided to begin accession negotiations with Serbia, but none of the chapters has yet been opened.

Serbia's progress was conditioned on dialogue with Kosovo and improvement in the rule of law.

In August, Serbia formed its team for negotiations with the EU. It is expected that it will open its first chapter by the end of this year.

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