Pursuant to the Treaty on the European Union, each country has the right to submit an application for EU membership. Decision on the start of membership negotiations with the Republic of Serbia, adopted by the European Council on 28 June 2013, the first Intergovernmental Conference held on 21 January 2014, a year and a half of the 35-chapter screening process September 2013 - March 2015) and work on the opening and preparations for the closure of negotiation chapters, which is still ongoing in the Republic of Serbia, are the basic elements of the membership negotiation process.
The candidate country is starting a lengthy process of adopting all Community law rules and procedures by chapter. When it comes to the enlargement process involving the countries of the Western Balkans, and based on the experience with Croatia, Chapters 23 and 24 are opened first, covering the area of justice and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security. In particularly important chapters (eg 23, 24 and 35), the EU determines the Interim benchmark criteria and only after their fulfillment are the Closing benchmark criteria defined.
The European Commission then evaluates the country's request and, with a positive attitude for approving the candidate status, submits an opinion to the EU Council. If the Council gives the green light for negotiations, the European Commission will start the monitoring process, the so-called screening.
The main purpose of the screening is to determine the difference that exists, in each of the negotiating chapters, between the legislation of the candidate country and the acquis communitaire. The phase of analytical review of legislation begins with the so-called explanatory screening in the framework when the European Commission presents to the candidate country the acquis divided into negotiating chapters. After that, the so-called bilateral screening assesses the level of harmonization of the candidate country's legal system with the EU legal system and determines the necessary activities in order to achieve compliance with the EU acquis by the time of full membership.
After consulting with the candidate country, the European Commission prepares a Screening Report for each of the chapters of the acquis. The legal heritage of the EU is divided into 35 chapters, and it represents a corpus of common rights and obligations that connect the members of the European Union. Negotiations on the content within each of the negotiating chapters are conducted on the basis of the negotiating positions of the European Union and the candidate countries, which are made for each individual negotiating chapter after the results of the analytical review. The negotiating position is first presented by the candidate country and it explains how it intends to adopt and apply the acquis communautaire in each chapter, with a description of administrative capacity.
Representatives of the European Commission are participating in the screening on the EU side, and from the candidate country, members of working groups for the preparation of negotiations on individual negotiation chapters, representatives of institutions and state administration bodies.
According to the requirements of the new methodology for enlargement, adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia in April 2021, the Coordination for Negotiations on the Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the EU, headed by the Chief Negotiator- Minister for European integration, as well as the Team for support of negotiations on the accession of the Republic of Serbia to the EU are participating in the screening and the entire negotiation process. These are the bodies whose existing structures have been reorganized according to the key requirements of the EU methodology, adopted by the European Commission in February 2020.
According to the previous methodology, there were 35 negotiating chapters and the working negotiating groups worked independently of each other, and now the chapters are grouped into six clusters (Cluster 1- Fundamentals; Cluster 2- Internal Market; Cluster 3- Competitiveness and Inclusive Growth; Cluster 4 - Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity; Cluster 5- Resources, Agriculture and Cohesion; Cluster 6- External Relations) and opening each of them requires enhanced communication and coordination of reform activities of different areas and negotiating groups through different chapters within one cluster.
Depending on the area, several coordinators from different ministries will be appointed for individual clusters. This means that assistant ministers and state secretaries from line ministries will be coordinators of thematic clusters, which will strengthen mutual intersectoral coordination. The goal is for Serbia to respond efficiently and effectively to the strengthened criteria in EU accession by changing the negotiating structures, but also to the need to conduct the process at a higher political level, as required by the new methodology, taking more political responsibility for implementing what is agreed.
Decision on the Establishment of the Coordination for Negotiations on the Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union and the Negotiation Support Team
By January 2022, the Republic of Serbia had opened 22 of the 35 negotiating chapters.
Schematic presentation of accession negotiations according to the new methodology of EU enlargement:
Source: Center for European Policies, Belgrade
The issues under negotiation are grouped into 6 clusters and 35 chapters:
Cluster 1- Basics
• Chapter 5: Public procurement
This Chapter involves general principles of transparency, equal treatment, free competition and non-discrimination. Specified EU rules are applied to the coordination of the award of public contracts for works, services and supplies, for traditional contracting entities and for special sectors. In addition, specific rules on review procedures and the availability of remedies are also involved.
• Chapter 18: Statistics
This Chapter involves statistical infrastructure based on principles such as impartiality, reliability, transparency, confidentiality of individual data and dissemination of official statistics. The Statistical Office of the European Union is Eurostat, which in responsible for collecting statistical data at the EU level. National statistical institutes are taken as reference points for the methodology, production and dissemination of statistical information.
• Chapter 23: Judiciary and fundamental rights
This Chapter aims to maintain and further develop the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice. The establishment of an independent and efficient judiciary is of major importance. to safeguarde the rule of law, the courts must maintain impartiality, integrity and a high standard of adjudication. Member States must fight corruption effectively, as well as ensure respect for fundamental rights and EU citizens’ rights, as guaranteed by the acquis and by the Fundamental Rights Charter.
• Chapter 24: Justice, freedom and security
The aim of this Chapter is to maintain and further develop the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice. Member States must implement the growing framework of common rules regarding the issues such as border control, visas, external migration, asylum, police cooperation, the fight against organised crime and against terrorism, cooperation in the field of drugs, customs cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal and civil matters. The most detailed part of the EU’s policies on justice, freedom and security are the Schengen rules, which refer to the lifting of internal border controls in the EU.
• Chapter 32: Financial control
This Chapter refers to the adoption of internationally agreed and EU compliant principles, standards and methods of public internal financial control (PIFC) that should apply to the internal control systems of the entire public sector, including the spending of EU funds. Other requirements involve the existence of effective and transparent financial management and control systems; functionally independent internal audit systems; relevant organisational structures; an operationally and financially independent external audit organisation to assess, amongst others, the quality of the newly established PIFC systems. In addition, the Chapter also involves the protection of EU financial interests and fight against fraud involving EU funds.
Cluster 2- Internal Market
• Chapter 1: Free movement of goods
This Chapter refers to the principle of the free movement of goods which implies that all products must be traded freely from one part of the Union to another. It is necessary for a candidate country to harmonize its regulatory framework in this area with the EU. In addition, sufficient administrative capacity is essential to notify restrictions on trade and to apply horizontal and procedural measures in areas such as standardisation, conformity assessment, accreditation, metrology and market surveillance.
• Chapter 2: Freedom of movement for workers
This Chapter points out that EU citizens of one Member State have the right to work in another Member State. Also, EU migrant workers must be treated in the same way as national workers in relation to working conditions, social and tax advantages. In addition, national social security provisions for insured persons and their family members moving to another Member State must be coordinated.
• Chapter 3: Right of establishment and freedom to provide services
The establishment of EU national and legal persons in any Member State and the freedom to provide cross-border services must be ensured by a national legislation. The rules concerning regulated professions to ensure the mutual recognition of qualifications and diplomas between Member States must be harmonised. The aim is also to open up the postal services sector to competition in a gradual and controlled way, within a regulatory framework which assures a universal service.
• Chapter 4: Free movement of capital
With some exceptions, all restrictions on movement of capital (within the EU and between Member States and third countries) must be removed. Cross-border payments and the execution of transfer orders concerning securities must be regulated. Moreover, banks and other economic operators are to identify customers and report certain transactions in accordance with the directive on the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. A key requirement to combat financial crime is the creation of effective administrative and enforcement capacity, including co-operation between supervisory, law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities.
• Chapter 6: Company law
This Chapter involves rules on the formation, registration, merger and division of companies. In the area of financial reporting, rules for the presentation of annual and consolidated accounts, including simplified rules for SMEs, are applied. It is important to note that the application of International Accounting Standards is mandatory for some public interest entities. Rules for the approval, professional integrity and independence of statutory audits are also specified.
• Chapter 7: Intellectual property law
This Chapter involves the harmonisation of rules for the legal protection of copyright and related rights. Specific provisions for the protection of databases, computer programs, semiconductor topographies, satellite broadcasting and cable retransmission, biotechnological inventions, pharmaceuticals and plant protection products are applied. The legal protection of trademarks and designs must be harmonised. The Community trademark and Community design is also established.
• Chapter 8: Competition policy
This Chapter involves anti-trust and state aid control policies, furthermore, rules and procedures to fight anti-competitive behaviour by companies. Additionally, it aims to scrutinise mergers between undertakings and to prevent governments from granting state aid which distorts competition in the internal market. The competition rules are directly applicable in the whole European Union.
• Chapter 9: Financial services
These rules refer to the authorisation, operation and supervision of financial institutions in the areas of banking, insurance, supplementary pensions, investment services and securities markets. The operation of financial institutions across the EU must be in accordance with the ‘home country control’ principle involving the establishment of branches or service provision on a cross-border basis.
• Chapter 28: Consumer and health protection
This Chapter covers the safety of consumer goods and the protection of the economic interests of consumers in a number of specific sectors. Member States need to transpose the acquis into national law and to put in place independent administrative structures and enforcement powers. An appropriate judicial and out-of-court dispute resolution mechanisms, as well as consumer information and education need to be ensured. Moreover, this Chapter covers specific binding rules in the area of public health.
Cluster 3- Competitiveness and inclusive growth
• Chapter 10: Information society and media
This Chapter involves the application of specific rules on electronic communications (aimed at eliminating obstacles to the effective operation of the internal market in telecommunications services and networks, promotion of competition, protection of consumer interests, etc.), information society and audio-visual services (involving the legislative alignment with the Television without Frontiers Directive creating conditions for the free movement of television broadcasts within the EU). The main aim is to establish a transparent, predictable and effective regulatory framework for public and private broadcasting in line with European standards.
• Chapter 16: Taxation
This Chapter covers the area of indirect taxation, namely value-added tax (VAT) and excise duties (on tobacco products, alcoholic beverages and energy products). In terms of direct taxation, the rules also cover some aspects of taxing income from savings of individuals and of corporate taxes. Moreover, Member States must comply with the principles of the Code of Conduct for Business Taxation. The administrative co-operation and mutual assistance between Member States is important to allow a smooth functioning of the internal market as concerns taxation and provides tools to prevent intra-Community tax evasion and tax avoidance.
• Chapter 17: Economic and monetary policy
The economic and monetary policy involves the coordination of economic and ¬social policies, common monetary policy and common currency (the euro). This Chapter involves specific rules requiring the independence of central banks in Member States, prohibiting direct financing of the public sector by the central banks and prohibiting privileged access of the public sector to financial institutions. New Member States are obliged to comply with the criteria laid down in the Treaty in order to be able to adopt the euro in due course after accession.
• Chapter 19: Social policy and employment
This Chapter involves the provision of minimum standards in the areas of labour law, equality, health and safety at work and anti-discrimination. The European Union supports the implementation of its employment strategy and contributes to social inclusion efforts through the European Social Fund.
• Chapter 20: Enterprise and industrial policy
The aim of the EU industrial policy is to promote industrial strategies enhancing competitiveness by speeding up adjustment to structural change, encouraging an environment favourable to business creation and growth in the EU as well as domestic and foreign investments. It also aims to improve the overall business environment in which small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) operate. An adequate administrative capacity at the national, regional and local level is required.
• Chapter 25: Science and research
Transposition of EU rules into the national legal order is not required, however, implementation capacity relates to the existence of the necessary conditions for effective participation in the EU’s Framework Programmes. Hence, Member States need to ensure the necessary implementing capacities in the field of research and technological development.
• Chapter 26: Education and culture
The areas of education, training, youth and culture are primarily the competence of the Member States. A cooperation framework on education and training policies aims to converge national policies and the attainment of shared objectives through an open method of coordination. The new programme “Education and Training 2020” integrates all actions in the fields of education and training at European level. As regards cultural diversity, Member States need to ensure that their international commitments allow preservation and promotion of cultural diversity.
• Chapter 29: Customs union
This Chapter involves almost exclusively of legislation directly binding on the Member States: the EU Customs Code and its implementing provisions, the combined nomenclature, common customs tariff and provisions on tariff classification, customs control of counterfeit and pirated goods, drugs precursors, export of cultural goods, as well as on mutual administrative assistance in customs matters and transit. to achieve this, implementation and enforcement capacities, including links to the relevant EU computerised customs systems must be ensured.
Cluster 4- Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity
• Chapter 14: Transport policy
This Chapter involves legislation aimed at improving the functioning of the internal market by promoting safe, efficient and environmentally sound and user friendly transport services. The sectors covered are road transport, railways, inland waterways, combined transport, aviation, and maritime transport.
• Chapter 15: Energy
In compliance with the EU energy policy objectives (improvement of competitiveness, security of energy supplies and the protection of the environment), this Chapter involves rules and policies referring to the competition and state aids, the internal energy market, energy efficiency, nuclear energy and radiation protection.
• Chapter 21: Trans-European Networks
This Chapter covers the Trans-European Networks policy in the areas of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures, as well as the Community guidelines on the development of the Trans-European Networks and the support measures for the development of projects of common interest. The aim is to take full advantage of the internal market and contribute to economic growth and the creation of employment in the European Union.
• Chapter 27: Environment
This Chapter aims to promote sustainable development and protect the environment for present and future generations. It is based on preventive action, the polluter pays principle, fighting environmental damage at source, shared responsibility and the integration of environmental protection into other EU policies. The legal acts cover horizontal legislation, water and air quality, waste management, nature protection, industrial pollution control and risk management, chemicals and genetically modified organisms, noise and forestry. to achieve this, a strong and well-equipped administration at national and local level is necessary.
Cluster 5- Resources, agriculture and cohesion
• Chapter 11: Agriculture and rural development
This Chapter involves a large number of binding rules, many of which are directly applicable. The functioning of the common agricultural policy (CAP) requires proper application of these rules and their effective enforcement and control. Additionally, Member States must be able to apply the EU legislation on direct farm support schemes and to implement the common market organisations for various agricultural products.
• Chapter 12: Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy
This Chapter involves rules in the area of food safety: hygiene rules for foodstuff production, detailed rules in the veterinary field (for safeguarding animal health, animal welfare and safety of food of animal origin in the internal market) and in the phytosanitary field (quality of seed, plant protection material, harmful organisms and animal nutrition).
• Chapter 13: Fisheries
This Chapter includes regulations, which do not require transposition into national legislation. However, measures for participation in the common fisheries policy (covering market policy, resource and fleet management, inspection and control, structural actions and state aid control) must be prepared.
• Chapter 22: Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments
This Chapter involves mainly framework and implementing regulations, which do not require transposition into national legislation. They define the rules for drawing up, approving and implementing Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund programmes, which are negotiated and agreed with the European Commission, but implemented by the Member States. The Member States must have an institutional framework in place and adequate administrative capacity to ensure programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation in a sound and cost-effective manner.
• Chapter 33: Financial and budgetary provisions
This Chapter covers the rules concerning the financial resources necessary for the funding of the EU budget (‘own resources’), which are made up mainly from contributions from Member States based on traditional own resources from customs and agricultural duties and sugar levies, a resource based on value-added tax, and a resource based on the level of gross national income. Member States must establish appropriate administrative capacity to adequately co-ordinate and ensure the correct calculation, collection, payment and control of own resources.
Cluster 6- External relations
• Chapter 30: External relations
The legislation consists mainly of directly binding EU legislation, resultulting from the EU’s multilateral and bilateral commercial commitments, and a number of autonomous preferential trade measures. In the area of humanitarian aid and development policy, Member States need to comply with EU legislation and international commitments and ensure the capacity to participate in the EU’s development and humanitarian policies.
• Chapter 31: Foreign, security and defence policy
The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) are based on legal acts, including legally binding international agreements and political documents. Member States must conduct political dialogue in the framework of CFSP, align with EU statements, take part in EU actions and apply agreed sanctions and restrictive measures.
• Chapter 34: Institutions
This Chapter covers the institutional and procedural rules of the EU. When a country joins the EU, these rules need to be adapted so as to ensure this country's equal representation in EU institutions (Council, European Parliament, European Commission, etc.), the good functioning of decision-making procedures (voting rights, official languages and other procedural rules) and elections to the European Parliament. The internal organisation of a Member State is not affected by these rules, but the acceding country needs to ensure that it is able to participate fully in EU decision-making by setting up the necessary bodies and mechanisms at home and by electing or appointing well-prepared representatives to the EU institutions.
• Chapter 35: Other issues
This Chapter includes miscellaneous issues that arise during the negotiations, but which are not covered under any other negotiating Chapter.
The pace of the negotiations depends on the speed of reform and alignment with EU laws in each country. When the negotiations for all chapters of the acquis communautaire have been temporarily closed, the European Council, in its conclusions, marks the end of the negotiation process with a candidate country. The results of the negotiations are then incorporated in the provisions of the draft of the Accession Treaty which is drawn up jointly by representatives of the EU Member States, representatives of EU institutions and representatives of the candidate country.
After agreement has been reached on the text of the Accession Treaty between the EU and the candidate country, the draft of the treaty is referred to the EU institutions, EU Member States and the candidate country. On the basis of the draft of the Accession Treaty and prior to its signing, the European Commission needs to deliver its final opinion on the application for membership of the candidate country, the European Parliament needs to give its consent and, finally, the European Council must reach a unanimous decision on acceptance of the new candidate country and its application for EU membership.
Following the signing of the Accession Treaty, the acceding country has the right to express its point of view as an active observer, but no right to vote. The date of the full membership is defined by the Accession Treaty and it marks the results of the country’s long-lasting efforts and commitments. That date is a historic moment for the candidate country and its citizens.