Serbia Will Be Caught Up in Russia-West Standoff

3 MINS READMar 17, 2014 | 18:57 GMT
Serbia Will Be Caught Up in Russia-West Standoff
Serbian Progressive Party leader Aleksandar Vucic casts his ballot in Belgrade on March 16.

Serbia will soon have a new party leading its government, but there will not be any drastic changes to its policies or improvements in its chances of joining the European Union. Serbia's continued refusal to recognize Kosovo's independence and the new party's efforts to consolidate power will not sit well with Brussels. At the same time, larger issues such as the standoff between Russia and the West and Europe's own structural crisis will add uncertainty to Belgrade's bid for EU membership. Before the new government's term expires, Serbia will probably be less interested in joining the European Union.

The Serbian Progressive Party won about 49 percent of the vote in the March 16 parliamentary elections, translating into an absolute majority in the parliament because of the threshold required for parties to win seats. Often known by its Serbian abbreviation, SNS, the Serbian Progressive Party is expected to get 158 of 250 seats.

Already the largest party in the parliament, SNS' victory was expected. In fact, it was SNS that called for early elections to capitalize on its high popularity. Serbians were growing tired of the reign of the Democratic Party, which ruled until SNS and the Socialist Party formed a coalition government after the 2012 elections. As part of that agreement, SNS had to grant the post of prime minister to the Socialists.

SNS will no longer need other parties to form a government, but its leader, current Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, will probably seek a coalition partner anyway. Vucic will want to secure broad support as he works to implement economic reforms and as he prepares to continue negotiations to join the European Union.



SNS' domination of Serbian politics will likely complicate those negotiations. Similar to the way Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has acted since gaining a two-thirds majority in the parliament, Vucic will probably use his party's majority to try to cement SNS' position, along the way implementing policies that Brussels will not support. The European Union will demand that Serbia commit to political and legislative reforms that would hinder Vucic's consolidation of power, including pressuring Belgrade to privatize numerous state companies — a demand that SNS will be especially reluctant to accept now that it controls the Serbian government and thus also the large public sector.

Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo's independence, but over the past year it has made concessions, such as supporting local elections in northern Kosovo called for by Pristina, in return for the start of formal negotiations on entering the European Union. Belgrade hopes that stronger political and economic integration with the rest of Europe will lead to domestic prosperity. However, with Europe facing a structural economic crisis and demands for painful economic reforms still to come, negotiations will be drawn out and the Serbian public will grow more and more skeptical of the benefits of EU membership.

Another factor in the negotiations will be Serbia's strong ties to Russia. Serbia must factor in its free trade agreement with Russia, loans from Russia and the construction of the South Stream natural gas pipeline through Serbia as it negotiates closer ties with the West. Russia opposes Serbian integration with the European Union, and as the economic crisis in Europe persists, economic ties with Russia will be of special importance, likely undermining membership negotiations as they progress.

Serbia is also one of the countries that will become a focal point for Russia and the West as their confrontation over Ukraine extends to other peripheral countries. With pressure from Russian and European powers likely to come down on Serbia, the next Serbian government is in for some turbulent times.

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