March 2, 2004
Ladies and gentlemen deputies,
Today, when Serbia is marking two hundred years since the restoration of its statehood, we are faced with the question of what Serbia wants from us. What does Serbia expect from us, today, at the dawning of a new century? Not only from a government but also from all holders of authority and power. What does Serbia want form us, its citizens?
Let us recall that two hundred years ago Serbia was building its statehood step by step, gradually gaining its freedom and its status of an internationally recognised state. At that time, Serbia began to rearrange its economy and culture following civilisation and democratic patterns that pervaded in the developed part of Europe.
In the second half of the 19th century, Serbia, together with Montenegro, as an independent state, became an essential part of the European community of states of that time. Today, at the dawn of the new century, Serbia is again faced with some of the challenges it faced two hundred years ago. Therefore, those who point out to our demographic and material losses, the time wasted, historical misconceptions and failures are right. However, those who claim that Serbia has moved forward despite all unfavourable circumstances, are also right. There are several points that are of key importance for Serbia's progress to continue.
Let us see what problems we face today. Firstly, Serbia has to solve the issue of its statehood, which has been brought into question with the introduction of the international community's rule in Kosovo-Metohija, which is an integral part of Serbia's territory.
Secondly, Serbia must determine its status within the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro and thus strengthen the state union itself, in line with the Constitutional Charter and not contrary to it. It must implement the Charter and make the state union functional, and not mostly dysfunctional, as it is today.
Thirdly, Serbia must reconstruct its state institutions. It must make a strong internal organisation through the building of strong democratic institutions and the establishment of a legal state. Legal state means a break away from the remnants of the practice and mind of a one-party state. Legal state implies resolute confrontation with legal voluntarism and self-will. At last, legal state calls for the eradication of corruption, especially large-scale, as well as for the discouraging of every attempt to suppress and render senseless the will and interest of people and institutions through which that will and interest are expressed, with the help of privileges and material wealth gained in an essentially unnatural and formally illegal manner.
The fourth very important task is that Serbia and Montenegro jointly solve the issue of their status within the European Union. Despite all legitimate disputes and differences of opinion among relevant political parties, the fact that Serbia is part of Europe and that it needs a formal recognition in the form of membership in European structures, is completely beyond dispute both in this parliament and the public. It is not only that we want that membership, that is something that has to be achieved. What is a want usually brings benefits and what is a must is not necessarily beneficial, but there is no alternative for Serbia-Montenegro at the moment but to pursue the European path. For that reason, our primary duty and responsibility is not only to stop the collapse of institutions which have lasted for several decades, but also to create an institutional and constitutional framework that will eventually secure a stable progress for Serbia. Naturally, institutions, legislation and the integration of society are not goals for their own sake, but are also means for every society, especially the one that suffered various forms of internal and external violence, to secure conditions for its citizens to start living a safer, more peaceful and better life.
Now I will outline the government's vision of the transformation of the state, the economy and all major public services. I will begin with the same topic I began this address and that is the state. How shall we organise it and make institutions stronger? And, naturally, I will begin with the part of our state where our authority has been challenged because the authority of the international community has been established there as superior. I will begin with Kosovo-Metohija, which is, I am sure, the most important issue for this state, its parliament and government.
Always bearing in mind this fact, I want to say that the government will carry out a realistic policy of state interests. I will immediately explain what that means. In the first place, that means that the status of Kosovo-Metohija cannot be resolved without Serbia and the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Those who want to raise that issue must know that it cannot be done without Serbia and the state union, as well as that the word "status", which is used so often in relation to Kosovo-Metohija, can have various meanings for Serbia, but that it cannot mean independence.
The first and the most serious problem in Kosovo-Metohija has been, and will be, the issue of the return of the displaced to their homes and their native soil. Naturally, we cannot resolve this problem without UNMIK, but we can put forward a feasible plan that would be carried out in stages, with security guarantees for returnees. Based on the same gradual approach, we should work on the restitution of property to the lawful owners, individuals as well as the state, and also on securing and restoration of Serbian and European cultural heritage in the province. However, in light of all dramatic changes related to the fact that the Serb population has been deprived of its rights in Kosovo-Metohija, one burning issue arises - the issue of establishing new mechanisms to protect the Serb population, their property, and the province's cultural treasure.
The government, and all relevant state institutions, will insist with UNMIK and other international factors that fresh institutional frameworks are set to protect the interests of the Serb community in Kosovo-Metohija. If the formula for Kosovo-Metohija's autonomy within Serbia stipulated by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 represents substantial autonomy, then substantial autonomy for the Serb community in Kosovo-Metohija would be in this new formula that would ensure basic conditions for survival in today's Kosovo-Metohija, given the predominant discrimination of Serbs in both the interim institutions and by the majority population.
Substantial autonomy for the Serb population in Kosovo includes territorial autonomy, the division of Kosovo into entities or the cantonisation of Kosovo-Metohija, and a corresponding cultural and personal autonomy. When setting up institutions of government in Kosovo and when ensuring such substantial autonomy for the Serb community in Kosovo, one more thing must be taken into account, as was the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the Dayton accord. That is, the ethnic structure of Kosovo-Metohija has changed significantly since 1999. When establishing institutions in Kosovo-Metohija, the circumstances that existed in 1999 must be taken into account.
As for relations within the state union, a bit more than a year has passed since the Constitutional Charter of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was adopted. Not much has been done since then. Little has been done in its internal institutional and legal organising or in the implementation of its constitutional competencies. When the new government of Serbia is formed, we will assume our responsibilities stemming from the Constitutional Charter and based on our democratic and European orientation. The government will do everything within the range of its competencies to think up and strengthen the functioning of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. This means that the government must first work on fulfilling Serbia's obligations towards the state union.
As part of constitutional changes that are ahead of us, it is necessary, among other things, to make all necessary adjustments of Serbia's constitution to the Constitutional Charter. As for the work on harmonisation, it must be finished. And what has been done so far, with the adoption of the Action Plan for economic harmonisation between Serbia and Montenegro, must be implemented and continued, so as to create conditions for a market economy in the entire state union as soon as possible.
This government will pursue a strengthened pro-European policy. This means that it will work more in this field, and talk less. In its internal development, Serbia has to become a safe country, which respects human rights and ethnic minorities in line with European standards. A country where laws are respected, where institutions function, where doing business is regulated by market laws, where corporate crime is rooted out, and where corruption is reduced to a minimum. What could be more European than the achieving of these goals in internal development, with, of course, the policy of association as a priority? That is a policy for which the European Union has already given its guidelines. On the regional level, it is a strategy for European partnership, and more directly, these are the guidelines which concern Serbia and Montenegro in particular.
We expect the feasibility study to be completed and immediately after that we expect negotiations on stabilisation and association to be launched. However, it is already very clear that we must start with adjusting nearly all the laws we have, as well as those that we are yet to pass, to the regulations and laws of the European Union. The government will therefore draw up a national strategy for accession to the European Union, in which it will outline the key elements of the accession policy and obligations of the state organs, companies, and social factors in this long term process.
But let me now move from the state institutions to the economy. Our citizens, ordinary people, believe, and rightly so, that Serbia's own strength is enough to guarantee that the idea of an economically strong Serbia can become true. Even so, we can see that life in Serbia has been too hard for a long time. A great number of people struggle to make ends meet. To stay away from demagogy, I will say that reasons for the difficult economic situation we are in are not simple, and that some of them stem from overall political circumstances in the past.
To focus on the current state of the economy, I would like to point out a few key problems that we must address, bearing in mind that if we want a stable progress, there can be no shortcuts or simple solutions. First of all, I would like to emphasize that it is not a good thing that the state has imposed high taxes on all those who work. Around 950,000 people are jobless today, while many indicators are revealing large numbers of surplus workers in many enterprises. Industrial production continues to decline; there are no funds in the budget to encourage investment; there is no money for agriculture; no affordable housing loans. At the same time, Serbia is importing apples and wheat. Imports are by five billion dollars higher than exports. The country's debt has amounted to 14 billion dollars, while the burden of repayment obligations will grow in the years to come.
Therefore, the basic goal of the new government's economic policy is to create conditions for competitive domestic production in order to boost economic activity, increase the share of home-made goods in the local market and improve exports. This, in turn, will allow for raising employment and retaining more money in the Serbian economy. The government will also reduce the taxes that burden production, make the customs policy and non-tariff measures more efficient and make efforts to secure favourable loans and attract investment.
The government will support the policy of a stable national currency. We are aware that reduced taxes will initially trim budget revenues, which we will compensate by raising turnover taxes and excise taxes, particularly on luxury goods and health-damaging products. It is clear that our intention is to put larger portion of the tax burden on the better-off social strata.
With an adequate customs policy, a more efficient customs duty collection and non-tariff measures, we will help potentially competitive sectors stand on their feet once again. At the same time, we will try to persuade foreign companies which have already established presence in the Serbian market to shift at least part of their production to Serbia. We will put a stop to uncontrolled imports of goods at dumping prices, as well as imports of goods that do not comply with existing standards. Improving exports and attracting foreign investment will be high on the Ministry of International Economic Relations' priority agenda. We will also set up institutions that will provide export guarantees.
In order to resume with the necessary economic restructuring, the new government will closely analyse each industrial sector and prepare adequate strategic plans. The restructuring of large enterprises does not have and must not necessarily mean the loss of jobs if we make efforts to redirect them to more profitable operations in small and medium-sized enterprises, which are more flexible and easier to manage. When it comes to privatisation, it is necessary to find ways to improve the current sell-off model and eliminate its shortfalls. Ownership transformation must be fair, fast and in the common interest, and calls for adequate legislation to protect the interest of both the state and small shareholders. Disputed sales, challenged for alleged damage to the state interest, non-compliance with legislation or lack of privatisation agreements, will be reviewed.
When it comes to agricultural production, we will introduce a new system of subsidies that will allow for long-term planning and protection of farmers. We plan to add tariff and non-tariff measures to protect agriculture in order to prevent uncontrolled imports of basic agricultural produce and give more opportunities to domestic producers. These measures will not aim to introduce protectionism, but rather to safeguard agriculture, which is one of the most valuable domestic resources, in line with European Union protection standards.
One of the first tasks of the Ministry of Trade will be to shed light on the sugar trade abuse, whose resolution is not only the government's obligation towards citizens and the European Union, but also its priority in order to secure regular exports of agricultural products.
The development and reform of transport system management should be financed from concessions and the partnership between the public and the private sectors, in line with the development strategy, seen as the basis of Serbia's future development. It is necessary to step up the completion of Corridor 10 construction to make its section running through Serbia the cheapest and the safest road linking Western and Southeastern Europe.
The state, not companies, should be in charge of social welfare policy. We will have an active social dialogue with all relevant partners in order to find solutions that will make life better for all of us. One of the first steps of the new government will be signing a social welfare agreement among the major trade unions, the association of employers and the state.
Given the fact that health care system is one of the best indicators of a country's development level, we will make every effort to create conditions that will allow citizens to exercise their rights to health protection in a health care system that has been experiencing financial problems for a while. This calls for amending relevant legislation, particularly the Law on health protection, and reorganising the work of the health insurance bureau.
The new government must introduce a common system of environmental and natural resources protection and take urgent legal measures to bring it up to European Union standards. The government will aim to give environmental protection an active role in economic reforms and privatisation.
And now, a few words about the judiciary, public administration and the necessary changes in this part of the state apparatus. Judiciary system has an important role in a transition country. The Serbian judiciary is currently in a very bad shape and is characterised by a high degree of political influence, inefficiency and, unfortunately, corruption. The Serbian judiciary was degraded not only by long abuses by the single-party system and the neglect of its role by the democratic society. The violation of the justice system's independence in amending judiciary laws also contributed to its decline. Low financial resources of the majority of justice sector employees have driven away a number of experts, while at the same time making jobs in the legal sector less attractive to young, hard-working people.
When it comes to public administration reform, despite the fact that there are two bodies in charge of this reform, the Council for Civil Service and the Agency for Public Administration Development, public administration is yet to be truly transformed. It is necessary to draft a long term public administration reform strategy, which is part of our European integration process. The basic objectives of the future public administration transformation will be rationalisation, decentralisation, depolitisation and professionalisation.
The adoption of a law preventing the conflict of interest will be of special priority for the government, since it will prevent holding official posts to the detriment of public interest. The adoption of a law defining powers and the functioning of the ombudsman, or the citizens' lawyer, is also very important. Ombudsman should be available to those citizens who already got the protection of their rights, but are dissatisfied with the level of the protection. Thus they will be in a position to acquire their rights in another way.
Although it is not the domain of public administration in a narrower sense, the government will work to adopt a law on political parties. I will remind you that there is a Law on financing political parties, but not a law regulating their status. And, of course, when the so-called civil sector is in question, the government will come up with a bill on non-governmental organisations. This is an area completely unregulated, especially regarding the financial non-transparency.
Although the new Law on local self-government was adopted in early 2002, one of the government's priorities will be to truly transform the local self-government in a process of overall decentralisation of power and increasing the level of financial autonomy of local self-government units.
The Ministry of Interior will be transformed into a professional body of the public administration, paying full respect for human rights and the dignity, the constitution, the law and international rules. This ministry has to be open to the public as well as politically neutral. Essential national interests will also be observed. And let me stress, the government's priority task in home affairs will be clearing up all murders and assassination attempts that took place before and after October 5 , as well as revealing big economic and financial scandals that disturbed the citizens.
In the field of state security, the government will carry on the reforms which began in the Security and Intelligence Agency (BIA) and which have been mainly formal so far. We will try to bring the state security to a level which will guarantee its full depolitisation. BIA will become relieved from the burden of the past and fully capable of performing its functions both in terms of human resources and technical and technological equipment.
Finally, when we speak of the judiciary and home affairs, let me mention something what Serbia has been facing with all these years in a difficult manner. It is the cooperation with the Hague tribunal. The government will do everything to make that cooperation a two-way street. In that sense, we will try to provide, among other things, all legal, material and personnel conditions to organise war crimes trials before home courts. We will demand from the tribunal to offer us certain evidence materials against our citizens, so that our citizens indicted by the tribunal could be provided with adequate assistance in their defence before this court. Also, we will try to reach an agreement with the United Nations so that our citizens charged by the Hague judicial councils could serve their sentence in our country.
Standing as one of the crucial pillars of the state, education must take its place and be the driving force making the whole society progress. To meet that goal, we must build in the best principles of the national educational tradition and general principles and standards of the European Union countries into the existing educational system. While doing this, we must pay attention to our national and cultural specific features, as well as the specific features of the existing institutions. In that sense, we will suggest amending the Law on the basics of the educational system, which will introduce the founding of a National Educational Council as an independent expert body made up of representatives of all national institutions and educational centres.
Speaking of science, we will form a National Council for Science and call on representatives of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and all prominent scientists in Serbia and the Diaspora to take part in its activities. We will increase investment in science and pass a law on scientific and research work.
And finally, culture. This government will clearly define what the national strategy of Serbian culture is. The Serbian Council for Culture will be in charge of this project, which should be joined by most competent representatives in all spheres of culture. Our goal is to rehabilitate the culture by adopting a national strategy. We, as the government, will support that process by proposing legislation and increasing the budget for culture and science. We will stimulate the private entrepreneurship and initiative in the field of culture. We will also support the cherishing of cultural heritage of all ethnic communities in Serbia.
The new government will additionally regulate relations between the state and religious communities since laws in that field were abolished. We will do everything to redress injustices, such as the nationalisation of the property of religious communities. We will also regulate the legal status of these communities through legislation which will enable the introduction of spiritual care in hospitals, old people's homes and penal institutions, and the assessment of tax reliefs and other benefits for religious communities.
Taking into account that a large number of our people live outside Serbia-Montenegro, the Serbian government considers that its obligation is to create conditions for the Diaspora to take part in the political, economic and cultural life of its mother country. The first precondition has already been fulfilled with the amendments to the Law on the election of deputies in the parliament. The next step will be changes to the Law on citizenship which will liberalise the regime of granting citizenship to persons of Serbian origin. All this will allow the Serbian Diaspora to exercise its rights in a more comprehensive manner. The government will also work to redress two great injustices that were done to a large number of people, and that is the restitution of the property taken away and the rehabilitation of those wrongfully convicted.
Lastly, national minorities are live witnesses of the history of this part of Europe. In the past, they were often victims, and today they are a bridge between nations and one of the most important participants in the process of reconciliation, understanding and building of lasting confidence in the region. In order to secure full participation of national minorities in the political life of Serbia, the Law on election of deputies in the parliament has been amended allowing them to have their representatives in the parliament, just as in some neighbouring countries, proportionally to the percentage of their population in the overall population of Serbia. The government will see to it that national minorities be appropriately represented in the executive authority and the administration as well.
There are 370,000 refugees in Serbia, 250,000 of whom acquired Serbian citizenship. The new government must take necessary steps to help them adapt to the new environment or to enable them to return to their homes from which they were expelled. To that end, the government will provide full support to the resolution of property issues in Serbia, as will as in the countries these refugees came from. We must find a way to facilitate the legalisation of newly-built houses, to start the allocation of construction land and offer full support in reducing unemployment.
The problem of refugees is no longer only a humanitarian problem, but also a fundamental part of Serbia's social and development policy. It is of utmost importance that we encourage regional cooperation as the problem cannot be solved without cooperation among Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia-Montenegro.
The government will make every effort to allow our athletes to prepare and take part in this year's Olympic Games. Taking into consideration the importance of sport in our society and the international reputation that the country earned thanks to its successful athletes, we will take urgent steps to prepare a national strategy on sport and draft a sport law to regulate the sport sector in the long term. Given the fact that the sport sector should be financed from budgetary funds and donations at this stage, we will also launch a public debate on passing a law on privatisation in sport.
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, certain words emerge at times, words that seem to have supernatural qualities and meanings, words that must not be doubted in, words that strike with fear and reverence. One of such words is reform. Now, let me pose a question - will this government be reform-minded? Each new government seeks to make some changes and is more or less successful in its quest. If you take a look at election and post-election rhetoric in stable democratic countries, you can see that they also value the word reform, at least when it comes to specific sectors - education, health, or pension insurance reform. Call it what you will, but this government will seek to make changes in certain sectors in the above-mentioned direction. Whether we call it reform-oriented or not, this government will certainly not take citizen money to fund flamboyant and expensive campaigns to prove that it works well and that everything is nice. It will not try to prove that the nation should shoulder the bulk of the reform and transition burden, if not its entire weight. To the contrary, the burden should be taken by us all. Those who have more should assume a larger portion of the burden and those who have less should take its smaller part. Only deputies in the parliament and the nation itself are eligible to judge the government's work. This government will seek to be responsible, which means that the parliament and citizens, and not only citizens, will assess its success.
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, this was a brief outline of the programme. Finally, I would like to inform you on the make-up of the new government:
Miroljub Labus, Deputy Prime Minister
Dragan Jocic, Minister of Interior
Mladjan Dinkic, Minister of Finance
Zoran Stojkovic, Minister of Justice
Zoran Loncar, Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government
Ivana Dulic-Markovic, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management
Dragan Marsicanin, Minister of Economy
Radomir Naumov, Minister of Energy and Mining
Velimir Ilic, Minister of Capital Investment
Bojan Dimitrijevic, Minister of Trade, Tourism and Services
Predrag Bubalo, Minister of International Economic Relations
Slobodan Lalovic, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Affairs
Aleksandar Popovic, Minister of Science and Environmental Protection
Ljiljana Colic, Minister of Education and Sport
Dragan Kojadinovic, Minister of Culture
Tomica Milosavljevic, Minister of Health
Milan Radulovic, Minister of Religion
Vojislav Vukcevic, Minister of Diaspora
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, thank you.