The recent early parliamentary elections in Serbia brought victory to the ruling coalition, Serbia Is Winning, pivoting on the Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) with the support of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and President Tomislav Nicolić. The coalition won 48% of votes or 131 out of 250 seats in parliament, a result which could be seen as positive, if we disregard the fact that the SPP won 158 seats two years ago and still had to consolidate its positions. Moreover, the electorate returned the Serbian Radical Party with 8 percent of the vote. Together with the Dveri movement and the Democratic Party sharing a dim view of Serbia-EU rapprochement (an estimated 30 seats in parliament) this party could offer serious resistance to the ruling center right coalition.
In addition, the Hague International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia fully acquitted the longtime Radical Party leader, Vojislav Šešelj, a development that has mobilized his friends-euroskeptics and led to new and more intense criticism of the ruling coalition and its leaders – the prime minister and the president.
Today the Serbian leaders will have to offer a program for urgent economic reforms to be implemented against the backdrop of a worsening economic situation and to address the issues of relations with Kosovo and the EU, all while maintaining even keel in relations with Russia.
As estimated by the Belgrade authorities, the number of the officially announced unemployed alone is about 750,000, while the average pay has not exceeded 400 euros for years. The economic downturn is fertile ground for organized crime, including drug trafficking, cigarette smuggling and money laundering. Organized crime routes mostly pass through Montenegro and Kosovo but they are becoming increasingly important for Serbia as well. According to available estimates, the 1991-99 war left in its wake, among other things, a surge in unemployment and alcohol abuse, with the number of chronic alcoholics doubling during this period.
The ruling coalition sees this as a serious obstacle to economic reform as well as to the talks on the status of Kosovo and Serbia’s European integration.
Under Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia has made considerable concessions to the EU, recognizing Kosovo’s de facto independence and handing over to Pristina the Serb-populated northern part of Kosovo that was not under its control previously. But despite EU pressure, Serbia is not ready to recognize Kosovo’s independence, as Serbian polls confirm.
A number of steps have been made recently, which theoretically should have an effect on Northern Kosovo’s security. Specifically, it has been decided to create Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo, although their powers will be very limited. More likely than not, this decision can be regarded as a concession to the West in exchange for continued talks on Serbian accession to the European Union.
But it will be long before Serbia and other West Balkan countries have a real opportunity to join the EU. As he was sworn in as the EC head, Jean-Claude Juncker declared that EU expansion was not in the cards during the Commission’s 5-year mandate but talks with aspirants would be continued.
It was the Boris Tadić administration that launched talks on joining the EU; in December 2012, Serbia became an EU candidate, but its accession has been impeded by the unresolved Kosovo problem. Moreover, to the EU leaders’ displeasure, Serbia is the only candidate country that rules out the very possibility of its joining the anti-Russian sanctions.
Generally, as estimated by Belgrade experts, the Vučić-Nicolić ruling coalition is increasingly falling back on the traditions that date back to the 1960s and the 1970s, when Yugoslavia was balancing between the West and the East. Today, given its lack of prospects for EU integration and real chances for economic support by Moscow, Serbia will most likely address its economic crisis with support from Western economic organizations.