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Friday, 16 May 2014

After the elections: Serbia on its European path

David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

The Serbian Ambassador in London, Dr Ognjen Pribicevic, spoke on the above subject at SEESOX on 12 May. David Madden chaired. The Ambassador summarised the outcome of the March elections. The Serbian Progressive Party had won almost 50% of the vote, and 167/250 seats in Parliament. The party leader, Vucic, was now Prime Minister. There was no mathematical necessity for a coalition, but Vucic had chosen the former PM and leader of the Socialist Party, Dacic, to be Foreign Minister. Not one MP was anti-EU. This was probably unique in Europe. The other key event was the opening of EU accession talks on 21 January.

The number one issue was the economy. Unemployment was about 25%, the public sector was over-sized leading to budgetary problems, and although a firm – and popular - start had been made in fighting organised crime and corruption, this remained a problem. The strategy was to begin with austerity with a 10% cut in public salaries (with no action on pensions yet); and then to introduce new laws on labour relations, encouraging entrepreneurs and FDI. In June there would be laws to simplify licensing requirements, not least to reduce the scope for corruption. On cooperation with neighbours, he highlighted Vucic‘s visit to Sarajevo on 13 May, and continuing work on implementation and extension of the Brussels Agreements. On bilateral relations with the UK, he emphasised the new phase, with particular emphasis on trade, investment, culture and the history of friendship and personal contacts. Today’s Serbia was a country of pop and folk festivals, tourism, good food etc: a member of the European family, and a country in transition.

In answer to a range of questions, the Ambassador added the following:
  • Arrangements for police and courts in the north of Kosovo were of fundamental importance to the Brussels Agreements.
  • Serbia wanted a peaceful solution in the Ukraine, supported territorial integrity, but did not wish to introduce sanctions against Russia.
  • Vucic had a mission to transform Serbia into a modern, European country. It was well-placed to modernise, with good administrative capacity, a sound framework for building the rule of law, and a liberal tradition. There was strong civil society and media. Results in the fight against OCC, and signature of the Brussels Agreements were impressive achievements.
  • Relations with Croatia had been up and down after the last 20 years. There were many open issues related to the war: casualties, property etc. The EU offered safety and reconciliation to both countries. It was in everyone’s interests for all West Balkan countries to join the EU.
  • Serbia had a special relationship with Republika Srpska, and wanted to see the people of BiH cooperate not quarrel on the basis of the Dayton balance (3 peoples, 2 entities). Serbian progress towards the EU should be viewed as positive. Serbia supported BiH as a state, and would not be an obstacle to making BiH function better.
  • The most important chapters for EU accession were those on justice, customs and home affairs: reflecting Serbia’s priorities of action on the economy, public sector and corruption.

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