On Wednesday, 29 May 2024, the prEUgovor coalition presented its 22nd Alarm Report on the progress of Serbia in Cluster 1 for the period from November 2023 to April 2024 at the Sava Center.

One step forward, two steps back: The electoral process revealed the state capture momentum

"The period covered by the prEUgovor Alarm Report was marked by elections and the government in a technical mandate. This means a halt to many formal activities, especially if they involve the executive or legislative powers. Even though some things were done, those changes seemed one step forward and two steps back. The elections showed how captured our state is." With these words, Jelena Pejić Nikić, senior researcher of the BCBP, coordinator of the prEUgovor coalition, and editor of the Alarm report began her presentation at the conference.


The atmosphere of antagonism and violence continues, and fundamental rights are insufficiently protected

"In the last five years, we have had three election cycles and are constantly in the pre-election campaign. We are always waiting for the institutions to be formed until the last moment, for no good reason. It revealed the state capture momentum and the European Union recognized that as well. The elections also affected basic rights and freedoms - assembly, media, personal data protection... We saw the restriction of the enjoyment of freedom of peaceful assembly for people who are critical of the government. We have seen people being forced to attend rallies of the ruling party. We have also seen the overreaction of the police and the use of force at protests due to election irregularities. We have also seen that the media scene is dominated by the ruling party, especially the President of the Republic. We have seen many abuses when it comes to the protection of personal data, whether it is the forgery of signatures to support electoral lists or the smear campaign of opposition candidates and activists, and the reaction of the institutions has been weak and indecisive. In the same way, judicial institutions were passive and did not protect the electoral rights of citizens", says Pejić Nikić.


One step forward, two steps back: The electoral process revealed the state capture momentum


In her presentation, she mentioned a very important topic - violence in society and the atmosphere of antagonism, but also the lack of any, especially constructive, dialogue. "The number of attacks on journalists continues to increase - in the reporting period, NUNS recorded about 70. There were 9 femicides and this continued even after the reporting period. From time to time, violence happens in schools. "These are vulnerable groups, women and children, and the state must do more to protect them," said the editor of the Alarm report.


New and old electoral irregularities remained without an epilogue

Nemanja Nenadić, program director of Transparency Serbia, spoke about the December elections, stating that the same problems existed in earlier election cycles, such as non-transparent financing, abuse of public resources, pressure on voters, and more. However, what is new is the organised migration of voters. "None of that has had its epilogue, some things that were started then have not been investigated to this day." We know that appeals have been submitted to the Constitutional Court in connection with the election process, but we still do not have an answer as to what happened to it. “When it comes to financing the campaign, the deadline for the report for the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption expires at the end of June, and we still do not have an answer," said Nenadić. There is no answer either, whether only people who should have the right to vote voted in the elections, or whether those who live elsewhere voted.


One step forward, two steps back: The electoral process revealed the state capture momentum


As a positive thing, Nenadić mentioned the repeated observation mission of OSCE that came to observe local elections, which is extremely unusual for them. "I believe their conclusions will be similar to what they were after the December election, given that nothing much has changed since December." Nenadić drew the attention of those present to the phenomenon of public resources being used to support the ruling party, allocations for one-time assistance to citizens, debt write-offs, and the like, which represent methods aimed at winning over voters in elections, which are currently not regulated by any act, nor are the possibilities for wasting public resources limited. Nenadić also warned about the danger of the Law on EXPO 2027. "The key thing is that as soon as the application of that law is excluded, there is no longer any legal protection. If you follow the election campaign, you will see that EXPO is mentioned there in some contexts where we did not expect it. The road through Šumadija, the development of Čačak, everything is EXPO. What should be feared is that all purchases throughout Serbia will be brought under that project and that the law will not be applied to them."


The public does not have real information about how the ruling party spends money

Ivana Milosavljević, a journalist from CINS, followed up on the topic of violations of the law during election campaigns, who assessed that independent institutions in Serbia are not proactive when it comes to malpractices that reach the public. She referred to two major CINS surveys that showed questionable spending by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.


One step forward, two steps back: The electoral process revealed the state capture momentum


"SNS imported promo material worth 3 million euros by international air transport from faraway countries, right before the official announcement of the 2022 elections. What we could see by looking at the report on the expenses of the election campaign is that the SNS spent only 38,000 euros that year, when all the elections were held, mostly for the municipal elections. We saw that the party paid the shipping company 3 million euros, and they misled it as promotional material. In 2022, SNS spent more money than ever on promotional material - over 4 million. It was not an alarm for the agency to request additional information and contracts," said Milosavljević.

During the research, CINS came to the information that the goods were sold by a Romanian company that is associated with the controversial Romanian businessman Sebastian Gica, who was granted asylum in Serbia. "We are getting into a situation where SNS does not report the real supplier of goods, what they bought, how much money they bought it for, for the reason that they did it all before the start of the campaign and in the annual financial report, they did not even have to inform the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption about those purchases. "


One step forward, two steps back: The electoral process revealed the state capture momentum


Ivana Milosavljević also followed up on the story about the call center which is closely related to the campaign and in which they even documented the purchase of votes, however, the Agency considered this insufficient evidence and decided to reject the application of Transparency Serbia, a member of the prEUgovor coalition. "At the end of the day, the public does not have complete and true information about how the ruling party spends money." Our institutions are not proactive when a case happens in public, they make sense of it even when there is an official report and suspected violation of the law. The absence of an adequate reaction from the institutions only encourages those actors because they see that they will not be prosecuted," Milosavljević concluded.


The coalition singled out recommendations for the new Government of Serbia and the European Union

As recommendations to the current Government, the prEUgovor coalition singled out greater tolerance for criticism, especially of high-ranking representatives of the government, more attention to the prevention, condemnation, and sanctioning of violence, transparent and fair election processes, ending the illegal acting situation in public administration and public enterprises, urgent public tender for the Chief of Police, amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure and the new Strategy for the fight against corruption.

Among the recommendations to the European Union, the sending of an expert commission, as in North Macedonia, to prepare a report on the systemic problems of the rule of law in Serbia, which was also requested by the European Parliament, stands out. Clearer, more direct, and consistent messages from the EU are needed, and the election of a new enlargement commissioner would be a good signal. The coalition also expects the EU to start internal reforms to prepare for enlargement and to include candidates in that process, as well as to concretize the increasingly prevalent ideas about accelerated integration before membership.


Watch the video from the conference HERE.


One step forward, two steps back: The electoral process revealed the state capture momentum





The conference was organised as part of the project financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Italian Republic. The content of this publication represents the views of its authors and in no way represents the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.