The Serbian government sees the latest European Commission report on Serbia's progress on the path of European integration as a call to Belgrade to speed up the reform process, especially in certain areas, while civil society perceives it as "the final warning before expulsion."
There has even been some public speculation that the report is "easy" on Serbia because Commissioner (for Enlargement Oliver) Varhelyi is Hungarian, and relations between Serbia and Hungary are excellent, or because the ruling Serbian Progressive Party is an affiliate member of the EPP, the strongest political party in the European Parliament.
The report contains the now standard criticism of and recommendations to Serbia - there has been no progress in the areas of election process and the judiciary, whereas limited progress has been made in the fight against corruption, organized crime, and in public administration reform.
Stating that an agreement with Kosovo is key to progress toward membership in the EU, the Commission urged Serbia to ramp up efforts toward harmonizing its foreign and security policy with the EU's, stressing the importance of appointing a new head of the team for negotiations with the EU as soon as possible.
Some progress has been made where economic criteria are concerned and Serbia is moderately to well prepared for developing a functional market economy.
The Commission, however, called on Serbia to respect the EU standards and rules in investment, public procurement, state aid, assessment of the environmental impact of investments, and cost-benefit analysis.
At the same time, European Movement in Serbia Vice-President Vladimir Medjak believes that the new annual Commission report has shown that Serbia has not moved forward in European integration since May 2019, when the previous report was published.
"Serbia has failed to make any significant headway in any negotiating chapter, while in some, instead of removing obligations from the list, it has added new ones," Medjak told Beta and EurActiv Serbia, citing the example of Chapter 5 - Public Procurement.
According to Medjak, Serbia first passed a new Public Procurement Law, which was seen as a step in the right direction, but then another law was passed - on line infrastructure - which excludes the biggest infrastructure projects, roads, railways, from the Public Procurement Law. The Commission report marked this as creating possibilities for high-level corruption and as a law that bypasses the EU's rules of public procurement.
Medjak also said that the Commission report was asking Serbia to change its anti-European rhetoric, i.e. that "the rhetoric must be accurate and unambiguous regarding Serbia's determination to join the EU."
As a reminder, at the start of the coronavirus epidemic Serbia glorified Chinese aid, while accusing the EU of a lack of solidarity.
European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi highlighted the importance of reforms and, during last week's visit to Belgrade, pointed out that the EU's new Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, worth nine billion euros, would be pointless unless its implementation was accompanied by a swift implementation of reforms.
All the investment is worth nothing if the right conditions for its implementation are not in place, Varhelyi said after a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, He added that the EU ascribed great importance to the rule of law and that work would have to start very fast, as soon as the new Serbian government was formed.
Vučić said that he had accepted the enlargement commissioner's criticism at his expense regarding the recent election and his use of the office of president, whereby he had gotten Serbian citizens to vote for the party ticket he had led.
He went on to say that Varhelyi had also objected to the proposing of a stricter curfew due to the coronavirus epidemic, to the use of force, as well as to the intensive relations with Russia and China, and to the purchase of the Pantsir missile system.
"As for the pandemic, I am proud of the work of the state bodies and the work of the doctors and medical staff. People's lives were our utmost priority, much more important than whether someone would like me or not," said Vučić, adding that he had not been guided by selfish political interests, but rather by the fight for life.
Vučić said that many objections from the Commission's progress report could be rectified, that there were "things that are true," but also "political ones."
He also said that he would seek accountability for his actions before the citizens in the 2022 presidential election and that he could not rule out a snap general election at the same time.
And while there is already talk of a new election, Serbia has no government almost four months after the last election.
The new cabinet, after the June 21 election, ought to be unveiled in the coming days, certainly in early November at the latest, which is the legal deadline. For the time being, all that is known is that the cabinet will be led by old/new Prime Minister Ana Brnabić.
According to Vučić, the new cabinet is to have two new ministries - for demography and for human rights, equality and social dialogue.
When it comes to EU accession, representatives of the National Convention on the EU expect that European integration and Serbia's membership in the EU will remain the priorities of the new government, and call for the re-establishment of the team for negotiations with the Union, which has been leaderless for a year now.