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Serbia: Property Law Package Approved by Parliament

(Oct. 26, 2011) On September 26, 2011, the Serbian Parliament approved by “an overwhelming majority” a law on restitution of property, to provide compensation for or return of property confiscated by the communist authorities after World War II, when Serbia was part of the former Yugoslavia. (John Paul Putney, Serbia Approves WWII Property Restitution Law, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Sept. 26, 2011).) At the same time, the legislature adopted a public property law aimed at opening up the country to more foreign investment and decentralizing government control; lack of such a law had reportedly allowed the central government to reap most of the revenue from property sales since former President Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from office in 2000. (Gordana Filipovic, Serbian Lawmakers Approve Laws Needed for EU Membership Bid, BLOOMBERG (Sept. 26, 2011).) The laws are part of a major package on property rights reform essential for Serbia to adopt in its bid to join the European Union. (Putney, supra.)

Under the new restitution law, property owners or their heirs may register by 2014 to claim confiscated property or receive compensation. (Id.) To repay the funds expended, the government will issue a 15-year bond, with the debt limit not to exceed €2 billion (about US$2.8 billion). The International Monetary Fund approved the limit in late August. The IMF also confirmed a new, €1 billion precautionary loan for the country on September 29. (Filipovic, supra; Gordana Filipovic, Serbia Says IMF Clears 1 Billion-Euro Precautionary Loan Program, BLOOMBERG (Sept. 30, 2011).)

Before visiting Belgrade on October 14 to present to the Serbian government the European Commission's Opinion on Serbia's EU membership application, Štefan Füle, the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, stated that the Commission had decided to recommend that Serbia be granted Candidate status, “[o]n the basis of the progress achieved in reforms, co-operation with the International Court Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia, and regional reconciliation,” and “on the understanding that Belgrade re-engages in the dialogue with Kosovo and is moving swiftly to the implementation in good faith of agreements reached to date.” He added, “[w]e also propose to open negotiations with Serbia as soon as it achieves further progress in meeting the one key priority we identify, namely: further steps to normalise relations with Kosovo in line with the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association Process.” (Commissioner Füle Presents the Commission's Opinion to Serbia, European Commission website (Oct. 14, 2011).)