On 17 December 2023, elections were held in Serbia. However, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have claimed they were not conducted fairly. MEPs have called for an independent investigation into the irregularities.
Serbian authorities have allegedly abused institutions and media persistently and systematically to gain an unfair advantage. This led to the latest Serbian parliamentary and local elections falling below the expected standards for an EU-candidate country.
The Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday, with 461 votes in favour, 53 against, and 43 abstentions, pointing out that the election was conducted smoothly but with numerous procedural deficiencies. The Parliament has highlighted the inconsistent application of safeguards during voting and counting, frequent overcrowding, breaches in the secrecy of the vote, and numerous instances of group voting.
MEPs have reminded the Serbian authorities that the proper functioning of Serbia’s democratic institutions is essential for its EU accession process. Therefore, they have called for an independent investigation by respected international legal experts and institutions into the irregularities of parliamentary, provincial, and local elections. They have urged special attention to the City of Belgrade Assembly elections.
There is no institutional response to alleged manipulation and no sanctions for offenders.
MEPs have expressed their disappointment towards the lack of response from institutions regarding serious suspicions of electoral manipulation and abuse. They emphasise that this lack of response perpetuates impunity and ensures such practices continue. The Parliament condemns the lack of measures taken to prosecute and sanction electoral offences, including serious allegations of unlawful manipulation of the Voter Registry and voting rights, pressures and intimidation against citizens and election candidates, cases of corruption, forging citizens’ signatures, clientelism, and illegitimate and unlawful abuse of citizens’ data.
The plenary also refers to the orchestrated attacks by Serbian officials on election observers, including Members of the European Parliament, and demands a return to respectful and constructive discourse. It emphasised the importance of mutual respect in the democratic process.
Unethical reporting and disinformation, lack of media pluralism
MEPs also condemn the absence of media pluralism during the election campaign, disinformation and abundant unethical and biased media reporting favouring incumbents. They warn that since President Aleksandar Vučić came to power, there has been a constant erosion of media freedom in Serbia, characterised by political pressure, threats and even physical attacks against journalists.
Suspension of EU funds
According to the resolution, accession negotiations with Serbia should progress if the country makes significant progress on its EU-related reforms, including the full implementation of the election recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission. If the Serbian authorities are unwilling to implement the critical election recommendations or if the investigation findings indicate the involvement of the Serbian authorities in voter fraud, then MEPs call for the suspension of the EU funding due to severe breaches of the rule of law in connection with Serbia’s elections. The final ODHIR report is expected to be published in the coming weeks.