The accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union were formally opened on January 21, 2014 by the first EU-Serbia Intergovernmental Conference, held in Brussels. At the technical level, the negotiations have been in progress since September 2013; since then, several screenings of Serbian legislation in relation to specific chapters of the acquis have been held. The Government of the Republic of Serbia has established the institutional structure for the European integration process, consisting of: the Coordination Body for the Process of Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union, the Coordination Body Council and the Negotiating Team for Accession of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union.
The Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit is formally involved in six negotiating groups, namely those on: agriculture and rural development, statistics, social policy and employment, regional policy and coordination of structural instruments, judiciary and fundamental rights, and education and culture. In the capacity of negotiating group members, Unit representatives advocate enhanced access to the rights of vulnerable groups during the accession negotiations and after Serbia’s attainment of full membership in the European Union.
European integration is a process of political, legal and economic integration of European states and regions. Nowadays, the term commonly implies integration in the European Union. However, the Council of Europe and other international organisations, such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) or regional initiatives, such as the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), are also very important on this path.
The main achievement of the Council of Europe was the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, whereby the European Court of Human Rights was established. In the sphere of social rights, the key document is the European Social Charter. The Republic of Serbia ratified the European Social Charter (revised) in May 2009, thus joining the ranks of numerous European countries that committed to improving the situation in the areas of social protection and industrial relations, i.e. social inclusion as an all-encompassing process of integration of all social groups.
The European Union is a supranational organisation comprising 28 Member States. It is founded on intergovernmental treaties, which have been amended over the decades, shifting additional national sovereignty powers to the remit of the European Union with each amendment. The Union is currently founded on the Treaty of Lisbon, whereby legal personality was conferred on it and some institutional changes were introduced, in particular the positions of President of the European Council and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy were created. The new Treaty also facilitated, in institutional and budgetary terms, the continued policy of Union enlargement to Western Balkan countries and Turkey.
The social inclusion process, initiated in 2000 by European Union leaders, is rising in relevance and significance; therefore, the European Union has developed a framework for national strategy development and policy coordination among Member States in areas pertaining to poverty and social exclusion.
Serbia has held the EU candidate status since March 2012, and the accession negotiations, during which Serbia will be required to adopt the acquis communautaire, were opened in January 2014. The European Union legislation (acquis communautaire) is divided into 35 chapters, and the negotiations represent an institutionalised and technical process lasting several years. In parallel, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) entered into force on September 1, 2013, whereby Serbia became an EU associated country.
Negotiations encompass matters under the Social Policy and Employment chapter, which largely concern the comprehensive social inclusion process. As other countries in the EU integration process, Serbia is expected to develop an ESRP (Employment and Social Reform Programme) and gradually become involved in the Open Method of Coordination, the principal mechanism of coordinating Member States’ policies in all areas that fall either within the competence of the Member States or within the shared competence of European Union institutions and each Member State’s national institutions.
As part of the preparations for this process, already in October 2008, the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopted the National Programme for Integration of the Republic of Serbia into the European Union, containing the chapter Social Inclusion.
As part of efforts towards active involvement in the preparation for EU accession, Serbia participates in the Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity – PROGRESS 2007–2013, under which several projects aimed at promoting social inclusion are already being implemented in Serbia.