With an interesting legislative pipeline and a full deck of elections announced for next April, Serbia finds itself in a place of opportunity right now, according to PR Legal Partner Milan Petrovic.
“The biggest buzz right now are the changes to the constitution, which began in 2016 in slow motion, but are galloping recently,” Petrovic begins. According to him, the constitutional changes are nothing new, but rather the result of a several-year-long process that got sped up only recently. “Chapter 23 of the accession process to the European Union – Judiciary and fundamental rights – is the key driver here,” he says. “Serbia has been struggling a fair bit with this chapter in the past, especially when it comes to undue pressure – the least of which is political – on judges and prosecutors.”
Petrovic says that for these reasons, and in cooperation with the Venice Commission, the Serbian government has decided to undertake a full stack of reforms. “These primarily include the way judges and prosecutors are chosen, with a newly proposed mechanism having them elected by the High Judicial Council and the State Prosecutorial Council, respectively,” he says. On paper, it looks like a good approach but one concern for legal experts is whether half of the members of those Councils will still be appointed by Parliament, out of a pool of “prominent lawyers”. Other key amendments will tackle the Parliament's jurisdiction and decision-making process.
“Only time will tell how successful these reforms will be,” Petrovic says. “The constitutional amendments themselves will not be enough to guarantee the independent work of judges and prosecutors.” He reports that the justice system itself is under far more duress than just the way judges and prosecutors are elected, with some 1.5 million unresolved court cases. “The amendments do not address the pressure for judges to settle cases quickly, which means that that specific pressure will not decrease as a consequence.”
Politically, however, Petrovic feels like little is likely to change – even with the country facing Presidential, Parliamentary, and local Belgrade elections, all in April of next year. “Other than the usual pre-election behavior of attempting to attract more investors and unveiling some projects around the country, I don’t think that we ought to expect anything major happening,” he says.
“When it comes to business too, things are quiet,” Petrovic continues. “Seeing as how Serbia has left the era of privatization, the majority of investors now focus on startups, greenfield, and brownfield investments.” He considers Serbia to be an interesting target for investment, given its geographical position and, especially, its “low operational costs, in terms of the price of labor and payroll tax incentives, custom free access to different world markets, and numerous free-trade agreements, including the one with Russian Federation.”
Finally, talking about the most active business sectors, Petrovic highlights the IT and food sectors. “These are the largest areas of opportunity for Serbia to showcase its full potential, without a doubt,” Petrovic concludes.