Full institutional and financial independence of the judiciary must be ensured on judicial levels, following the example of the Brčko District.
Amending specific aspects and provisions of disciplinary procedures and elaborating ethical codes in order to further develop, clarify and promote the application of highest ethical standards within the judiciary would be a measure particularly important for restoring the public trust in judiciary.
The revised Law on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council should ensure a comprehensive reform of its functioning given its immense influence – while the independence from external factors should be strengthened, internally it should be restructured to avoid the concentration of power. The Office of the Discipline Council, particularly, needs full institutional, financial and personal independence from the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council.
Do not trade long-term sustainability (accountability, due democratic process, stakeholder negotiation) for short-term efficiency. Yet, short-term results and investment in drivers of change are necessary to build up the credibility of the process. Striking the golden mean is painstaking, but rewarding.
Hold out credible reward for performance (EU accession) and build a rule of law constituency (invest in independent media, civil society organisations, public communication). Empower them to carry the flag and be domestic agents of change. Beware of window-dressing reformers using the accession process for their own ends.
Treat rule of law, anti-corruption and good governance as cross-cutting issues to be incorporated and monitored in every chapter of negotiation and partnership with the EU; ensure stakeholder participation up and down the decision-making process; maintain focus on values, not just ticking boxes.
The government should develop precise roadmaps in the EU accession talks and a clear framework for strengthening the rule of law. The measures should include better defined indicators and activities while insisting on more specific tasks on an annual basis within the interim benchmarks to facilitate both performance assessment and monitoring of progress. A new model of reporting based on a simplified form, which would include an overview of key challenges in meeting the benchmarks and thus strengthening the rule of law, would be advisable as well.
The new parliamentary majority and all parties in the parliament should strive to remove political influence from the judiciary and find solutions that will enable the strengthening of institutions and ensuring their impartiality. As the EU insists on a broad consensus on these issues, and society is in a state of deep polarisation, a kind of mediation between the two blocs, the majority and the opposition, is needed. In this way, the selection of the best candidates in the judiciary, especially where envisaged membership of the academy (civil society), which will not be close to any party, and thus impartial law enforcement will be ensured and politicisation avoided.
The government should fully open the reforms to the public to allow public scrutiny and impartial evaluation.
An independent and professional judiciary stands as the cornerstone of strong democracies which are based on the rule of law. A reformed judiciary affects every segment of a society, and promoting judicial reform must remain at the heart of the EU accession process.
Independent watchdog organisations as well as well-funded and professional prosecution bodies have positively contributed to the implementation of judicial reforms in Croatia. These efforts must be continued towards a reform of the court system and overall professionalisation and depolitisation of the judiciary.
The EU enlargement process is not value-neutral and is not a one-way process. The EU focuses on the rule of law and order as to install strong, liberal democratic political systems in new member states, which, in return, strengthen the EU as a cohesive body. With this in mind, the EU’s efforts in sanctioning member states that deviate from liberal democratic standards should be fully endorsed and sanctions against EU member states that violate the EU’s rule of law standards should be applied.
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