Serbia’s New Government: Turning From Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The West should prepare for Serbia to turn increasingly away from Europe and towards Moscow, argues a 31 May report from the International Crisis Group (ICG). The group is convinced that the new government will choose Kosovo over Europe, and that appeasement would weaken rather than strengthen pro-Western forces.

Facing the difficult issues of the status of Kosovo and cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Serbia’s new government is deeply divided between pro-Western and nationalist forces, states the report. Its composition – together with deep mistrust among many of its members and a nationalist majority in parliament – suggests that it will follow an increasingly isolationist path away from European integration, according to the author. 

The report argues that the composition of the new government is a significant setback for pro-Western forces, claiming that the Serbian administration is vulnerable to manipulation by the security services and oligarchs and that serious co-operation with the ICTY is unlikely – due to the system of divided responsibility for the security services. 

Fearing the need for fresh elections following a four-month delay in forming a government, Western governments had strongly pressed President Tadic’s Democratic Party to form a ruling coalition with Prime Minister Kostunica’s ultra-nationalist, anti-Western Democratic Party of Serbia, claims the author. However, Tadic’s party and its allies are now too out of step with the prime minister and the nationalist parliamentary majority to influence foreign policy effectively, argues the report. 

The ICG argues that the EU strategy of using the prospect of integration and eventual accession to soften Serbia’s stance on Kosovo is also highly problematic, considering the current government, especially as the EU and US now have even fewer policy tools with which to influence Belgrade after having given away most of their leverage through repeated concessions. 

Brussels and Washington should resist the temptation of appeasing Serbia further in an effort to purchase acceptance of Kosovo’s independence, argues the report – labelling such action “misguided”. 

The ICG concludes that the West may well have to accustom itself to a Serbia that – for the next few years at least – is anti-Europe, pro-Russia and “unrepentant in its dangerously self-destructive nationalism”. 

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