Prime Minister of Serbia

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Dear Ms Brasseur, ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to be here and to have the opportunity to address the Council of Europe. I will do my best to be as brief as possible, so that there is more time to respond to your questions.

Having read the speeches of some of my predecessors, I know that when people come here, they mostly speak about good stuff that they have delivered and do their best to present their countries in the best possible way. I will do my best to be as objective as possible and hope that you will get a better picture of Serbia, its intentions and its strategic goals.

As you know, Serbia is on its path to European Union membership. That is not a political declaration because, although many of your countries have enlargement fatigue, we in Serbia have patience fatigue. Like in many of your countries, the European Union does not have the greatest popularity in our country today, but as a leadership – a very stable leadership in our country – we still think that it is the best way for our people, our nation and our country to reach the values that we fight for. There is one simple question to which we must respond: “What kind of society do you choose for your people and your country?” When that question is asked, the response is always the European Union. That is why we are dedicated to that path.

“Serbia has become one of the pillars of stability in the Balkans. I think we have contributed a lot to what is at least a peaceful environment."

I am here to speak about three important issues. First, I know that many of you are interested in the migrant crisis. That is an issue of solidarity and respect for human rights. Secondly, I will speak about accountability and the management of economic resources. Thirdly, as Ms Brasseur emphasised, I will speak about co-operation as a pillar of stability and regional development.

There are a lot of bad rumours coming not only from our region, but from the whole of Europe regarding the migrant crisis or refugee crisis. I am not here to criticise anybody, to complain about anybody, to ask for bigger amounts of money from someone or to cry for something. I am here to say that, so far, our country has received the biggest number of migrants. We have faced an influx of people from Greece and Macedonia – that is one route – and from Bulgaria on the other side. They all gather in Serbia and then move on. For five and a half months, they went to Hungary. For the past 12 days, they have been going to Croatia. We have accepted all of them. There is then that split when the migrants leave our country.

So far, we have not had huge problems with those people, particularly not the Syrian people. We have received almost 200 000 of them and have registered 164 000. We perform medical screenings and treatments, and take fingerprints and photos. We do everything that we are obliged to do as a sovereign State. We treat them in a very good way. We think that we have showed our human face; we have showed real tolerance and solidarity to those people. We have not fired a single tear gas bullet at them. We have not used a single baton against them. They are free to move in our country and they leave within 48 to 72 hours. We have not had big problems with them. Altogether, they have committed three criminal deeds. That is nothing, considering the number of people who have entered our country. That speaks well of those people.

Serbs have not complained or made a big noise because we have always been in the habit of having refugees, not only over the past 20 years, but after the Second World War. It is not that big a deal for us. I hope that my country will do the same in the future and that you will not hear any bad news from my country.

We have done our best to preserve a good relationship with all our neighbouring countries. So far, we have not had a single problem with Macedonia or Bulgaria. Even though we have received all the migrants from their territories, we have not done anything to act against them and we never will. We have great co-operation with all of them.

We have a very good relationship with Hungary, even though it was allegedly accepting migrants from our side – they were not actually from our side, as they were just crossing our territory – for more than five months. We were not really pleased about the fence and the barbed wire, but we did not cause any problems for our Hungarian friends and they did not cause many problems for us. I hope that we have overcome all the problems with our Croatian neighbours. I hope that all our neighbours realise that all these migrants have to pass through our territory and that, as you can see, we make no complaints. We have no problems with them and we hope that all the European Union countries take the same care of those people as Serbia.

Why am I saying this? Everybody is always complaining about the migrant crisis. Only Germany, the Scandinavian countries and a few other countries should do that, because they have to take care of these people for years or decades. We have to take care of them for not more than two to three days. I do not understand the people who pretend that we are great heroes because we have accepted 100 000 or 200 000 people for one, two or three days. It is really not a big deal for an organised State. That is different from all the other attitudes that you have heard.

I think that we have acted in a very European way and that we have showed a good, human, European face to the refugees and migrants.I am sorry to say this in this Assembly, but from time to time I think we acted in an even more European way than some European Union countries did. We will stay on that path.

I want to add that when I spoke to Chancellor Merkel, who is seen as a great leader in my country, I said that we can take an even bigger share of the burden on our shoulders. Although we are not a European Union country, we are ready to take a quota ourselves. For the record, as I told her, I do not care too much about reactions, but when I visited the migrants I heard from my experts that we had the biggest number of negative comments. I will still see people again next week, and will be doing so at least twice a month. I am doing my job and I do not care about people’s reactions. What is being done is good and important for my country and for all our countries. I hope that we can all deliver a comprehensive European solution.

Before discussing economic reform, I will talk about regional stability, which is a political precondition for economic recovery and reform. We have invested a lot of time and effort into this. Again, I am profoundly grateful to Ms Brasseur, Mr Jagland and many others from the Council of Europe who have helped us out in facing a lot of challenges in the Balkan peninsula. Serbia has become one of the pillars of stability in the Balkan region or, at least, there have not been any harsh statements since we have been doing our best to avoid all verbal political clashes and quarrels in the region. I think we have contributed a lot to what is at least a peaceful environment. That is not to say that we do not still face many difficulties and many challenges in the region, which is still fragile.

Let me analyse the various situations. The Belgrade-Pristina relationship will always involve some problems in the implementation process and there will always be new ideas and agendas, but I would dare to say that that relationship is not the biggest problem in the Balkans today. We will carry on and resume our talks with the Pristina prime minister on 13 October in Brussels, under the auspices of the United Nations and Federica Mogherini. We can always speak to each other and we can always resolve our problems peacefully, calmly and tranquilly.

We have invested much effort, as I have said, to help Bosnia become stable. We will carry on with such policies, because a spark in Bosnia could ignite the entire region. We are very aware of that, so we are always cautious and will always choose our words about our Bosnian neighbours carefully, although even today a lot of inflammatory speeches can be heard in that country. We will do our best to help them out and to preserve peace and stability.

With Albania, last year I could have said that the leaders of Serbia and Albania did not meet. It is now old news that Prime Minister Rama and I meet each other frequently. I will probably go to Albania for the famous rematch of the soccer game between Serbia and Albania – of course I hope that there will be no incident. Last year, he and I met about five or six times. At least we speak about everything, and we do not have any big open issues to discuss. The only disputes that we face are always to do with Kosovo and our co-operation is getting better and better day by day.

With almost all our neighbours we have the best relationship ever. The only problem that I can see, although I hope that we have succeeded in overcoming it recently, was with our Croatian colleagues. I hope that after the elections we will have a chance to rebuild our relationship in the best possible way – at least I can promise all of you that we will invest a lot of our time to do so.

Everything that I have just spoken about is a precursor for economic recovery in Serbia. After the terrible floods that we suffered last year, many thanks to all of you, not only the people from the Council of Europe who were so helpful, but all member States, from Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to Norway, as well as all the European Union countries. You all supported us a lot and we will never forget it.

After that, we kicked off our economic reforms, passing new labour, bankruptcy, privatisation and construction permit laws, as well as many other important Bills for the better performance of the Serbian economy. Unlike many others in that part of Europe, we started with fiscal consolidation measures. We cut our public wages and pensions and we succeeded in accomplishing very good results. We have made an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund and have passed the second revision of that programme.

We succeeded in cutting our fiscal deficit from 6.6% last year to less than 3% by the end of the year, which is less than the Maastricht criteria; the government budget is about 1%. The problem we still face is with our municipal and city budgets, but I am sure we can improve things next year by combining fiscal consolidation measures.

Surprisingly, a small miracle perhaps, but a good one for us, was that because of lower public consumption, we succeeded in having a positive growth rate. The IMF and the World Bank were forecasting negative growth of between 1% and 1.5%, but instead we will have positive growth of 1%, with the forecasts for 2016 and 2017 being even better.

We hope to carry on with our reforms, because a lot of change and reform is needed in the State-owned enterprises, or SOEs. We need to finalise the process of privatisation. We also need to boost the entrepreneurial spirit of our population – that is the biggest lack in our mindsets and in our economy in my opinion. We will do things together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and all the others. I have no doubt that, economically, we will be a prosperous country.

On human rights and your agenda, we have zero-tolerance for corruption and crime. We do our best to deliver on such important issues. You will hear bad words about me and my Government, but I am absolutely dissatisfied with the state of our judiciary and justice system. They have to be much more efficient and effective. We have made, and I have made, mistakes regarding important issues such as co-operation with non-governmental organisations and the attitude towards some independent institutions, but we have changed and started to co-operate and learn a lot from them. I am profoundly grateful to those NGOs that were very supportive regarding the migrant crisis. We learnt a lot and we hope that they will also be helpful in the future. We are also ready for the support of Council of Europe regarding delivery on human rights. It is not a big deal to us to admit our mistakes and work hard to change ourselves and our mindsets. I am grateful to you and grateful for your paying attention to my words today, and I am ready to respond to all your questions.

In that part of Europe, many things have started, and have finished – but have never finished – I speak once again about the Balkan region. We need support from all the countries in the region, all the European Union countries, and all the other countries, to protect regional stability, which is the most important precondition for peace. It is also important to economic recovery and to being a decent, normal country. We hope we will be the next country to be received as a member State of the European Union, but we will, regardless, do our homework and our job because our most important task is to be a normal prosperous country. Thank you once again.


Thank you, Prime Minister, for your speech. We all appreciate enormously that you said “We make mistakes”, and that you yourself make mistakes. That should be a lesson for us: we all make mistakes, and that is human and normal. What is not normal is to declare it publicly, but it is important to agree that we make mistakes in order to learn from them and to make progress. Thank you very much for giving us that message, because it is not an obvious one. At the end of your speech you said that you were doing your homework. You know that you can count on our support when are you doing it, and that we will continue to work together. Thank you. Hvala.

I call Mr Schennach on behalf of the Socialist Group to ask the first question.

Mr SCHENNACH (Austria)

Prime minister, it is good to have you here. Some 200 000 refugees have passed through your country in the past few months, free and self-organised. Now winter is coming, with snow, rain and cold nights and days, and they will need more than 72 hours to be processed. How will you deal with hosting them and providing medical help? Tens of thousands more are coming and it will take longer for them to pass through your country.

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

I am sorry to say this, and maybe my words will ruin some stupid political barriers that we ourselves have made, but those are not the numbers of people. Many countries are exaggerating the numbers; it is not a question of tens of thousands per day. One day we had 9 000, and one single country faced 10 000 in one day. For some reason, we always exaggerate, but I do not know why we do so.

You are right, there will be difficult conditions for those people in winter, with rain and snow. They will have to stay for more than two to three days. We are preparing for that with the support of some German humanitarian organisations, Norway, Austria and some other countries along with the European Commission. We are building reception centres and increasing our capacity to take care of those people. That is our job, and it is very normal.

To show you how much we exaggerate the numbers, only – though obviously the word “only” is relative – 1 750 people crossed our border yesterday. It is not always as the media report it. Also there are statesmen who would always like to emphasise their great role, talking about thousands and thousands of people, but that is not the case. You can always ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; it has the same numbers as the Serbian authorities. We do not hide any of those data. We have registered 164 000 people, and our assumption is that 200 000 have crossed our border. It is impossible that 220 000 have crossed Hungary’s border and 60 000 have crossed Croatia’s. Such large numbers of people have not entered their countries. Anyway, I shall leave all the blame games and numbers games to the European Union countries.

Of course we are still talking about a large number of people, and I notice that we are facing a greater percentage of people coming from Afghanistan than from Syria. At the beginning, 71.29% of refugees were coming from Syria; now that figure is about 58%. More and more people are coming from Afghanistan and we have noticed something else, as have some other countries: there are even people from Pakistan who have taken Afghan passports and joined the refugees. That is an issue that someone will have to deal with in future. We need a comprehensive European solution.

We will take care of those people, as I said, and we are also ready to take our share. If our neighbouring countries take 1 000 of those refugees, we are ready to take 1 000, 2 000 or whatever you say. We just want to be a part of European society, not only when you deliver money to countries from European Union funds – we do not get it in the way that all the other countries do – but because we want to share the responsibilities. We want to send you all the clear message that we belong to that club, even under these very difficult circumstances, and we are ready to take up our burden.

Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, I welcome you to Strasbourg. I want to ask you about what Mr Schennach said about the massive arrival of immigrants from the conflicts of the Middle East. Are you and the Serbian Government going to continue to assume your responsibilities with regard to the refugees, what dialogue have you had with the authorities of the European Union – it is very important for us to know this – and what do you think the solution might be?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

I was invited by Chancellor Merkel to Berlin to brainstorm on this issue when we proposed our bigger assistance to the European Union. What we were asking for was always a comprehensive solution, and we will be part of that. Do not worry about Serbia – we will deliver on all our obligations and we are ready to fulfil all our tasks. We had a very fruitful discussion with Chancellor Merkel and with Werner Faymann. I had a lot of discussions with Mr Orbán. We did not agree on some issues, but I think we succeeded in overcoming all the difficulties that we were facing with regard to the migrant crisis. Serbia and Hungary are in a very good relationship today. We spoke to Johannes Hahn when he visited Serbia, and to Federica Mogherini as well. We were always very ready to accept all the requests and all the remarks from the European Union, from the Council of Europe, and from all our friends, who always praised our hard work, although I thought we deserved more rewards on our economic reforms than on what was just a normal attitude and normal behaviour regarding the migrant crisis. We will carry on co-operating very closely with all our European partners.

Mr XUCLÀ (Spain) (interpretation)

I, too, Prime Minister, would like to welcome you here on behalf of the liberal group in the Assembly. I am very impressed by everything you have done in dealing with issues concerning migration and Kosovo. I have a very positive analysis of it.

I have a question about the judicial system – the courts system. A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a seminar organised by the Venice Commission on reforming laws and dealing with past. The legal system in your country was on the agenda for that meeting – the lustration laws. I understand that there was some self-criticism regarding the reform of the judicial system in your country and other reforms. Will you tell us a little more about these reforms and what your government is doing about the lustration laws?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

The lustration law was brought into force in 2001 and lasted for 10 years. That was a limited time in which to face the consequences of violating or breaching human rights in the past. Very recently, we had a proposal on this from a regional political party from Vojvodina that we still have not discussed in our parliament. This is not the biggest issue that I have been concerned with. We have already discussed not only the proposals of our political colleagues but the proposals that we might get from the Venice Commission and from the European Union. I am very dissatisfied with the efficiency of our courts, which means that you can still find some unresolved files from 1996 to 1997. What kind of justice do we speak about if you have cases unresolved for 20 years? It is no longer about seeking justice; it is about something else. I do not say that justice has to come in a quick way, but after 20 years it is no longer any kind of justice. That is what we need to reshape and change. We need to change our habits. I am still very dissatisfied with our approach, but I am satisfied that we have finished the cleaning process. We will probably open the first chapters by the end of this year, but we will also open chapters 23 and 24 at the beginning of next year.

I hope that we will be able to do this together with our European colleagues, and to learn much more, perform much better, and deliver much better. I am always a bit constrained about this, because someone might say, “This is your involvement or interference in an independent judicial area or justice area.” That is why I cannot comment very openly on things that are very visible for ordinary citizens of Serbia. I am profoundly grateful to you and to all your colleagues for paying attention to this issue. We will be very glad to learn a lot more in the future and to deliver in a much better way so that, first of all, all Serbian citizens should be more satisfied than they are today. You are together with all of us – thank you.

Mr D. DAVIES (United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, do you agree that the Hungarian Government has an absolute right to decide who can and cannot come into its country, that the Hungarian police have a right to defend themselves from violent young men throwing rocks at them and chanting religious slogans, and that Chancellor Merkel and other European leaders should be trying to encourage genuine refugees to stay in the safe camps provided for them throughout Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon instead of embarking on a dangerous journey into Europe?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

Dear Mr Davies, I was not speaking about rights of the sovereign States; I was speaking about the attitude that we all took to this crisis. I cannot agree with everything that you said. I have nothing against the will of our neighbours to stop the migrants’ influx into their countries, but what we need, and needed from the very first moment, was a comprehensive solution. You cannot leave all those guys in, say, Macedonia, because we can do the same, so why that country? What if we do it? What will Greece do with them? What will Tsipras do with them? That is why we need the comprehensive, pan-European solution that I was insisting on finding. When I spoke to Viktor Orbán, we agreed on some things and disagreed on others, but today I can say that we have a very good relationship. He understands Serbia’s position, and I always do my best to understand Hungary’s position. I cannot say that I am very pleased with the barbed wire, but he protects his own country. It is his way of dealing with this, and we respect that. For us, it is more important to hear what would be your comprehensive European solution, and we will act in accordance with that. That is very simple for our side. I agree with you that the crisis should have been settled at its places of origin, which means Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. As a small country, Serbia cannot contribute a lot to that, but we will always be very ready to what we can. There is only simple question from our side: what is your comprehensive solution for the migrant crisis? Whatever it is, we will deliver on that and act in accordance with it.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Prime Minister, I have listened with great interest to your speech and the way you are answering questions. It is not normal, but it is good – particularly the fact that you said you were not so much interested in all the problems that have been described, but in the solutions. I was therefore very grateful that you spoke about the problematic relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and how you nevertheless tried to overcome those and develop relations with Pristina. What lessons could we learn from how you tried to overcome the problems with your breakaway region? What are the lessons for other regions that have broken away from their country and that we now consider as black holes, where no justice is possible? Will you tell the Assembly how you tried to find a solution to an unsolvable problem?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

Thanks a lot; it will be an unusual response. Only 15 days after we won the last elections, we faced those really terrible floods. At that time, if I asked my people whether to go for difficult economic and political reforms and whether to carry on our discussions with Kosovo Albanians and do the same with all the others in the region, I would always get a negative response. So I did not ask anything of them. I said to them that the only thing that I was guaranteeing to them was sweat and tears, and I said that we would have a hard-working period of two or three years, and after that, I delivered on everything that was very difficult for our country. As you know, recently, on 25 August, we signed four agreements for an arrangement with Pristina and we will have the resumption of talks on 13 October. I will be asking our people at the next elections.

The lesson I learnt from my own experience – the most important lesson, because you can then tackle all the important issues – is not to care about people’s reactions. Whenever I visit those migrants and refugees, I face the biggest number of negative comments from our public audience, and I do not care. When those stupid, rightist, extremist parties wanted to organise rallies against the migrants, I said, “No, it’s not going to happen in this country. You can organise as many protest rallies against me and against the government, but against the migrants? Not a single one.” We banned it and I did not care about people’s reaction – sorry to use those words. That was the only way that we were able to deliver good results in different social spheres, and that is why I was insisting on emphasising regional stability. Perhaps I should not say “frightened”, but I am still very much afraid of the possibility that someone might destabilise the region. I am not afraid of the hard work that we will have to put in regarding the economic recovery. We are not a rich country and we will not be a very rich country, even in 10 years, but we are moving step by step. We will keep the pace up and do things even better. The lesson that I learnt was this: do what is best for your country and do not care too much about the public audience.


That concludes the list of speakers on behalf of their political groups. I now call Mr Badea.

Mr BADEA (Romania) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, I welcome you most warmly to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and I congratulate your government, in particular, on the excellent promotion of bilateral relations with my country. We here are best placed to see the positive changes in Serbia, so we congratulate you on that. In Serbia, some official voices are talking about the need to recognise a new language – Vlach – in Serbia. Will you comment on that?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

Mr Badea, thank you for noticing that we have done our best to establish and promote the best relationship with our Romanian friends. After the Second World War, that is something that I can also say for the Hungarians. We have not had a bad relationship so far, which is great news for our people and our nations.

I want to add that that is because all the others cannot understand us when we speak about Vlachs or the Romanian language. It is an issue of a Romanian minority, or a Vlach minority, and we have something that was established here at the Council of Europe, and I visited your Prime Minister. We spoke to the Romanian community and the Vlach community and had no problems with any of them. I will always be very ready to host my friend and to go there and see what we can do to improve not only the living standards of those people, but the human rights performance for all of them. We have no problems with that.

We have no problems with people who want to speak Romanian speaking Romanian, but we cannot force anybody to speak Romanian if he says that he speaks some other language. That is his right in accordance with the Council of Europe charters and regulations and in accordance with our constitution. However, I am always ready to discuss every single issue that you can put in front of us – together with your prime ministers and with all of you – and to visit every single part of Serbia, just to see that we do not violate people’s human rights and to discuss together with your people how we can accomplish and achieve even better results in the future. Once again, many thanks to you.

Ms DJUROVIĆ (Serbia)

Prime Minister, I am very honoured to be able to welcome you on behalf of the Serbian delegation. It is a pleasure to have you with us today. It is well known that you have personally made many concessions with the aim of good regional co-operation and good neighbourly relations. Do you think that the leaders of the other regional countries are equally committed and honest with regard to regional reconciliation?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

Thank you Sandra. Those warm welcoming words were because she is a member of my political party. I want to respond differently from how Sandra would expect me to. I think that there are many leaders in the Balkans committed to peace and stability. I do my best not only here, but when I have tête-à-tête discussions with Ms Brasseur, European officials and all the others, not to use my time to criticise my colleagues, because I think that if I do not reply to every single statement on every single issue, those people – if there are some people – will repeat it, and that approach works.

I will do my best to see, first, whether I have made mistakes. What did I do to them? What have we done against the interests of others? I will also do my best to correct our bad words and statements. If we are successful in changing ourselves, we will at least be able to be silent from time to time and not cause any further problems. I am not saying that because it is something that you would like to hear in this place; that is our politics, and we will be dedicated to sticking to that path. I say the same thing in my country every day, and it is not very popular. People in the Balkans still like those self-victimisation stories, and they like to hear tough words about their neighbours: “He said it to them. He delivered on that. He didn’t allow those guys to humiliate us.” You have to swallow something from time to time. That is how our politics will be in future, and although we will always do our best to protect the interests of our State, that will not be at the expense of other States’ interests.


As Mr Nikoloski and Ms Leskaj are not here, I call Ms Zohrabyan.

Ms ZOHRABYAN (Armenia) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, you know that there are to be elections in Azerbaijan but it has been decided not to send an observer mission because Azerbaijan is reducing the number of members whom it will allow to come from this Organisation or the OSCE. The Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE took the same decision. What is your comment on that situation? What should we do following the violations by Azerbaijan?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

That is the most difficult question for me. Unlike many guys from Serbia, I am not an expert on every single issue. We have many candidates for the big posts in the world – the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, of this and of that. We consider Armenia and Azerbaijan friendly countries, and I hope that the OSCE will tackle that issue in a proper way. I wish you all the best. To be very honest, I know nothing about the issue. I heard that someone was going to ask me about it, but I would be ashamed to act as though I know about it when I know almost nothing.

I shall speak with our Foreign Minister, who is the Chairman of the OSCE, to tackle the issue in a proper way that you and people from Azerbaijan will be satisfied with. I hope that the OSCE will be able to deliver on that issue in the best possible way. We did our best by investing a great effort in the chairmanship, and I think that others were satisfied with our work. I am not an expert who can resolve all the crises in the world – we have a lot of work to do on our own crises – but we will always be very friendly towards your country, and again I wish you all the best.

Mr JURATOVIC (Germany) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, you talked about co-operation, which is very important, and about dealing with history. Of course, we are talking about regional history as well. My question concerns how we can extend regional co-operation. It is important to have youth on board; that can have a real impact. How will you support youth co-operation?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

Josip knows how difficult it is to increase stability, particularly in our region. Our youth programmes and exchanges were praised at the Vienna conference – a resumption of the Berlin conference – attended by Angela Merkel, Faymann and Mogherini. That was quite something for us all. Although I did not notice a lot of interest among some Western Balkan countries, Albania and our country did a good job. Edi Rama was very helpful, and he was doing his best, along with us, to establish the youth office. We succeeded, and now we need to discuss where it will be headquartered, which could be in both Tirana and Belgrade. When I see Edi Rama in seven or eight days, we will discuss that issue, and all the others should join us.

I got this badge from Anne Brasseur with the message “No Hate”. Rama and I had the idea of promoting not only peace and stability, but speech with no hatred and a better understanding between young people. It was his idea – I shall not decorate myself with it – to welcome 65 Serbian students to Albania for a football match, and then I should welcome 65 Albanian students to Belgrade. We do not know each other; we did not speak to each other for 70 years, and there are many prejudices between us, but now it is getting better. The most important issue is, as with the Germans and the French after the Second World War, what we do today to establish a different relationship between our two countries and between our young people. Although we are not always satisfied with the speed of that process, it is important and I think that we may deliver very good results in future.


Mr Dokle and Ms Karapetyan are not here, so I call Ms Hoffmann.

Ms HOFFMANN (Hungary) (interpretation)

In Serbia there is concern about the protection of minorities, but things seem to be working in an exemplary way. You have granted many powers to the national minorities councils, allowing them to uphold the rights of people who belong to ethnic minorities. That leads to a large degree of autonomy among ethnic minorities, linguistically and culturally. What is the role of the councils in education?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

Thank you very much for noticing some of the good things that we have delivered recently. We have great co-operation and collaboration with Hungarians in particular, who form one of the biggest minorities in our country and whose representatives are part of our Government. We have good common results, and we are very satisfied with that co-operation. The councils play a big role. They have the right to propose textbook content, for instance, and we support and translate them. We help them out on every single important issue.

Almost 70 years after the Second World War, I visited some Hungarian cemeteries, because no Serbian official has ever wanted to see one, nor did Yugoslav officials at the time. We went there, and I think we succeeded in creating a better atmosphere for reconciliation between Serbs and Hungarians after the Second World War. I do not see huge problems. I would like it if a representative of the Hungarian minority were here to speak. For my own part, I would immediately confirm every single word he pronounced.


I do not see Mr Stroe, so I call Mr Zourabian.

Mr ZOURABIAN (Armenia)

The European Commission has requested that Serbia amend the outdated article 234 of its criminal code, which relates to economic crimes. When will your Government implement that and stop the criminal prosecution of hundreds of members of the business community under this obsolete law, in order to create the conditions for Serbia’s private sector to grow with confidence that the rule of law will not be abused?

Mr Vučić, Prime Minister of Serbia

My response is simple: yes, we will do it together, in accordance with the European Commission. We will harmonise our legal system with the European Commission. But it is not about chasing good businesspeople; it is about the fight against corruption. That was the only way that we could fight the beast of corruption in our country. We know what we need to do in future, but let me remind you that not so long ago, mine was a country where the tycoons decided everything. They were above the legal system, and they were dictating all the regulations and everything else. That has been changed.

It does not mean that someone will be prosecuted or indicted just for being richer than some other guys. Yes, there are things that we need to change and we will, but that was not the intention. That was a campaign launched against us recently because there are many criminals afraid of upcoming verdicts. I understand your question and I hope that we will be able to harmonise our legal system with the European Commission as soon as possible. That is one of the most important tasks before us.


Mr Hanžek is not here, so that concludes the list of speakers.

Prime Minister, I thank you for your speech and for answering members’ questions. You have been very honest and frank, and you have demonstrated that from time to time, one must admit to not knowing the answer. As politicians, we should all do the same, because we cannot know everything.

Before we conclude, I want to tell the Prime Minister that on Monday, we had a ceremony awarding the Václav Havel human rights prize. Among the three nominees was a non-governmental organisation made up of young people from the Balkans trying to overcome divides. They answered questions on education. That NGO does a fantastic job, which is why they were among the nominees. I just wanted to recall that to you, Prime Minister. We were very proud to have them here for the ceremony. I look forward to meeting you again in the very near future. It will not be in your country, but it will be in Sarajevo, which is more than symbolic.