Serbia’s ruling majority has approved a set of legislative changes that will give the President’s political appointees almost free reign in the security sector, and at the same time severely limit the powers of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The amendments have broadened the influence of the Interior Minister and Directors of the police and intelligence agency, giving them discretionary powers to bypass usual procedures for hiring, firing, promoting and remunerating senior officers.

Other changes have effectively put the work of public enterprise and the security sector beyond the reach of disclosure requests, as managers are now allowed to label practically any document produced by an institution or state as ‘confidential’. Adopted in 2004, Serbia’s FOIA has for years been the main source of information for investigative reporters and government watchdogs as it allowed ordinary citizens, media and NGO’s to request and view information held by public bodies. It helped produce numerous embarrassing reports uncovering potential corruption among senior party and government officials – and institutional paralysis in dealing with high-profile cases.

The issues are directly related to the rule of law and freedom of speech, Serbia’s most pressing problems arising from the process of state capture that has been unfolding under the autocratic rule of Prime Minister-turned-President, Aleksandar Vučić. The problems were highlighted in the European Commission’s latest Progress Report, but its lukewarm criticism had been interpreted as a green light to go forward with a further consolidation of power.