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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Serbia: Current Issues and U.S. Policy

Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

Serbia faces an important crossroads in its development. It is seeking to integrate into the European Union (EU), but its progress has been hindered by tensions with the United States and many EU countries over the independence of Serbia’s former Kosovo province. The global economic crisis poses serious challenges for Serbia. Painful austerity measures have been required for Serbia by the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions.

Serbia held parliamentary and presidential elections in May 2012. One party in the former government, the Socialist Party, did much better than anticipated in the parliamentary vote. In another surprise, in the presidential vote the incumbent president Boris Tadic was defeated by Tomislav Nikolic of the nationalist Progressive Party. After protracted negotiations, in July 2012 the Progressives formed a new government with the Socialists and another group, the United Regions of Serbia. Socialist leader Ivica Dacic was elected as Prime Minister.

Serbia has vowed to take all legal and diplomatic measures to preserve its former province of Kosovo as legally part of Serbia. Nevertheless, nearly 100 countries, including the United States and 22 of 27 EU countries, have recognized Kosovo’s independence. Russia, Serbia’s ally on the issue, has used the threat of its Security Council veto to block U.N. membership for Kosovo. After the International Court of Justice ruled in July 2010 that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not contravene international law, the EU pressured Serbia to hold talks with Kosovo starting in March 2011.

Serbia’s other key foreign policy objective is to secure membership in the European Union. In March 2012, the EU accepted Serbia as a candidate for membership after having judged that Belgrade has made sufficient progress in reaching and implementing agreements with Kosovo on a series of practical issues. In April 2013, the EU Commission recommended that the EU give Serbia a date for the start of the talks. Even if talks formally begin late this year, many years of negotiations will be required before Serbia can join the EU.

In December 2006, Serbia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PFP) program. PFP is aimed at helping countries come closer to NATO standards and at promoting their cooperation with NATO. Although it supports NATO membership for its neighbors, Serbia is not itself seeking NATO membership. This may be due to such factors as memories of NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence, and a desire to maintain close ties with Russia.

U.S.-Serbian relations have improved since the United States recognized Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, when Serbia sharply condemned the U.S. move and demonstrators sacked a portion of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. During a 2009 visit to Belgrade, Vice President Joseph Biden stressed strong U.S. support for close ties with Serbia. He said the countries could “agree to disagree” on Kosovo’s independence. He called on Serbia to transfer the remaining war criminals to the former Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal (since accomplished), promote reform in neighboring Bosnia, and cooperate with international bodies in Kosovo. The United States has strongly supported the EU-led talks between Kosovo and Serbia, while making clear that it plays no direct role in them. The United States has applauded the agreements reached by the two sides, including a key one on normalizing relations in April 2013.

Date of Report: May 13, 2013
Number of Pages: 15
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