Serbia to hold constitutional referendum on judicial reform

Serbia will hold a constitutional referendum on the appointment of judges and prosecutors today. Today’s referendum takes place amid Serbia’s

Bojan Slavkovic/Reuters

Serbia will hold a constitutional referendum on the appointment of judges and prosecutors today.

Today’s referendum takes place amid Serbia’s ongoing EU accession process. Approved by Serbian lawmakers on November 30, the proposed constitutional amendments require that the power to appoint judges and prosecutors be transferred from parliament to the High Judicial Council and High Prosecutors Council—an effort to depoliticize judicial appointments.

The Council of Europe has affirmed that the amendments align with EU rule of law standards toward fostering an independent judiciary. Today’s referendum will be conducted under parliament’s November 25 passage of a referendum law abolishing the traditional 50% minimum voter turnout threshold required.

Although the referendum brings Serbia closer to fulfilling the EU’s judicial criteria for membership, the law abolishing the voter turnout minimum may pose a risk to the country’s democratic development. The new referendum voting law gives the Serbian government more control over enacting constitutional change by undermining the voter-majority principle of a referendum. If President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) decide to leverage the new law to maintain their political power, expect their overtures toward the EU to be offset in the medium- to long-term due to democratic backsliding.

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