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News 11 Aug 17

Serbia’s Vucic Sparks Intrigue over Constitution Changes

Serbia must amend its constitution to allow judicial reform, but President Vucic’s comment that there is no “courage” for this caused rumours that constitutional changes in Belgrade’s Kosovo policy might be under consideration too.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
President Vucic with members of the Serbian government. Photo: Milos Miskov/Beta

President Aleksandar Vucic’s comment this week that the country does not have the courage to change its constitution has revived speculation about alleged unofficial requests from EU states for Belgrade to drop its constitutional preamble which defines Kosovo as part of Serbia.

Vladimir Medjak from the European Movement in Serbia told BIRN that the only current initiative to change the constitution is related to the reform of the judiciary - a change which is necessary as part of Serbia’s EU accession process.

“I am not sure what lack of strength are we talking about here, since there is a majority in the government [supporting Vucic] that would propose changes in the constitution. If the proposition was good, I believe a good part of the opposition would vote for it too,” Medjak said.

Medjak explained that constitutional changes over judicial reform are due to be passed by the end of the current year, which means Serbia is already behind schedule.

But if changes are being planned regarding Kosovo, the judicial reform might be delayed even further, since a public debate on Kosovo which was recently announced by Vucic would not be finished in time, Medjak said.

He added that the constitutional preamble could also be changed, if necessary, towards the end of Serbia’s negotiations with the EU, at the same time as Belgrade adopts the so-called integration clause which enables EU institutions to pass regulations that will be applied in Serbia.

“Right now we have the obligation of judicial reform, and the integration clause at the end [of the accession process],” he said.

Unconfirmed rumours have circulated since Serbia began its EU accession process that some European countries are putting pressure on Belgrade to give up its constitutional commitment to control over Kosovo.

Aleksandar Popov from the Centre for Regionalism told BIRN that he believes that Vucic’s recent call for ‘public dialogue’ on Kosovo means that he cannot deliver such a controversial change in policy.

“If parliament was to vote on the amendments, Vucic might be able to reach a majority with the liberal opposition, but [constitutional changes] are also subject to a referendum,” he said.

Popov is certain that any constitutional amendments that include dropping the preamble’s commitment on Kosovo would be rejected by the majority of Serbian voters.

“He [Vucic] is at a crossroads. If he is going after constitutional change [on Kosovo], right now there is no chance he can accomplish that,” Popov said.

Amendments to the constitution are proposed by the government, after which they have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament, or 167 MPs. The ruling coalition controlled by Vucic has 160 seats.

After that, there must be a referendum in which 50 per cent plus one voter must cast ballots in favour of the changes in order for them to be approved.

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