Global Independent Analytics
Radostina Schivatcheva
Radostina Schivatcheva

Location: Bulgaria

Specialization: Sustainable development, International relations, Comparative European politics, European integration, Eastern European politics and EU-Russia relations

Early elections in Serbia: poverty and the “European path”

“Stability is a keyword for Serbia”

Early elections took place in Serbia on the 24th of April 2016. Originally the elections were due to be held by March 2018. Reportedly, Prime Minister Vucic called the poll early, because “Serbia needs four more years of stability so that it is ready to join the European Union.” However, “stability” may prove elusive, considering the troubled state of the Serbian economy. The country has experienced about 1% GDP growth for the past eight years including one year of negative growth (2014). Income is only 36% of the European average.

This is Serbia's third parliamentary election in less than four years. Vucic admittedly wants Serbia to “continue on the European path and keep up good relations with the Russian Federation” – a wish which may not be easy to achieve. Vucic’s party, the Serbian conservatives, previously held an overwhelming parliamentary majority. Now the conservatives still hold the decisive majority, although they lost votes and have less parliamentary representatives than in the previous national assembly. The parties in the new parliament represent the whole palette of the political spectrum: left and far-right, Europhilic and Eurosceptic.

The allure of the EU

The EU has been the kernel of the imperative to hold early elections. The pressure on Serbia to join the EU is enormous. A landlocked state, it is surrounded by EU member states or states aspiring towards an EU membership. The European Council granted Serbia the status of candidate country in 2012. Accession negotiations were launched in January 2014. The analytical examination of the EU acquis (screening process) was completed in March 2015. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) between Serbia and the EU entered into force in September 2013.

Regardless of Vucic’s aspirations, it is unlikely that Serbia will become an EU member-state sometime during the next four years of his new government mandate.  The latest EU report (2015) on Serbia’s accession progress decisively states that the country is only “moderately prepared” to join the EU.

Still, the shining allure of the “European path” may blind Vucic to the “good relations with Russia” part of his aspiration. The EU report states in no uncertain terms that “Serbia will need to align its foreign and security policy progressively with the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy in period up to accession”. Such alignment would entail joining the EU-imposed sanctions on Russia. Russia is the 2nd largest import and 4th largest export partner of Serbia. Considering the fragile state of the Serbian economy, cutting off the economic linkages with Russia would be a disaster.  Thus, Serbia is left with the rather slim hope that the EU and Russia will reconcile, while the Serbian prime minister continues looking at the EU as a panacea for Serbia’s economic ills. A sober assessment of situation in the neighbouring EU member-states, such as Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, should be a telling example that the accession requirements of the EU as well as these of the actual membership may have rather harsh consequences on the Serbian economy.  Serbia has very little to actually gain from joining as its local industries would likely be destroyed. However, it is possible that due to the crisis of capitalism, Serbia will be made to join even though it is not officially ready while Brussels’ officials will turn the other way on certain issues.

Serbia’s economy is recovering from a third recession in five years, but GDP remains around its pre-crisis level. Economic growth averaged 1.0 % over 2008-2013 while it was negative in 2014. Even though the country is not an EU member, such deprivation in the European periphery should trigger a moral imperative to offer concrete help. The EU has offered some pre-accession financial assistance. The funding allocation for the period 2014–20 is €1.5 billion or 250 bln per year. At the same time, the EU suggests further “market restructuring”, privatization, and massive layoffs in a country already suffering from 20% unemployment. Clearly, the funding provided by the EU in order to offset the negative social consequences of such wide-ranging reforms is very insufficient. A majority of Serbs is likely to experience even more poverty after joining the EU, however, the government or pro-EU bodies are likely to launch costly media campaigns in favour of joining, while the Serbian elite can be easily bought off.

The electoral results

The centre-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), led by Aleksandar Vucic, had the largest electoral support with 48.26% of the vote and 131 seats in the 250 seats Serbian national assembly.  The center-left Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), led by Ivica Dacic, came second with almost 11% of the vote. The surprise of the electoral results is the third place for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), referred to as a ‘far-right, nationalist’ party. The party, led by Vojislav Seselj, won 8.11% of the vote and having no representation in the previous national assembly, will now have 22 deputies. Notably, very recently, on 31 March 2016, Seselj was acquitted in the first-instance verdict on all counts by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

According to BBC, the “pro-EU” Prime Minister Vucic hoped that voters would choose a "European path" and that he is "almost certain that we'll carry on our EU integration process." Judging by the experience of Serbia’s Balkan neighbors, the promised “European path” may, in fact, be a “cargo cult” – a rather elusive "myth-dream" in the appearance of an abundance of goods, as soon as the country becomes an EU member-state.  Or, as in the case of Greece, cheap credit to private consumers which later cannot be paid off.

Dissonant voices of Serbian party politics

“Stability is a keyword for Serbia,” intones Vucic. A national assembly, which includes vocal eurosceptics was probably not what Vucic had in mind when he called the early elections. But what are the political platforms of the major parties that now constitute the Serbian national assembly?

The holder of the majority of seats - the Serbian conservatives (abbreviated in Serbian as SPP), is a pro-EU party, which is also a member of the European People’s Party (EPP). Founded in 2008, the party has been in power since 2012. In the previous elections, SPP won an overall parliamentary majority, an unprecedented event in Serbia's recent history. SPP wants to pursue EU membership while maintaining good relations with Russia. SPP, as a conservative party is true to its colors, advocates more market and less social spending.  Development will come using the “magic foreign investor” – i.e. Vucic hopes to bring factories from Germany to Serbia, even though the hopes for the mythical “green field” German investor in neighboring Bulgaria have proven to be only mirages.

The second majority party in the new national assembly are the Serbian socialists (abbreviated in Serbian as SPS). SPS claims that its goals are achieving more social justice, social welfare and finding a political solution for Kosovo. The party is strongly pro-European and seeks closer ties with Europe's social democratic and socialist parties. However, the supposedly leftist party has previously supported austerity policies.

The most colorful politician in the Serbian parliament will undoubtedly be Vojislav Seselj, the founder and president of the far-right Serbian Radical Party (abbreviated in Serbian as SRS) - the majority third party in the new national assembly. Seselj spent 12 years in preliminary detention at the ICTY – a despicable world record - before being finally acquitted. Even the Hague tribunal admitted that Seselj’s time in preliminary detention has exceeded all acceptable limits. But the outspoken Seselj, who was also at one time a former Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, is undaunted by his experience at the ICTY. His claims are bold: “The EU and NATO are one and the same; those who support them are traitors to Serbia”.

The rest of the seats in the national assembly will be taken by four smaller parties. Two parties and coalitions won 16 seats each, and two others – 13 each. The Democratic of Serbia (DS), which self-identifies as center-left has won 16 seats. DS is a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES), espousing PES-type of “leftism”. The coalition “Enough is Enough” (abbreviated in Serbian as DJB), which openly advocates economic liberalism, has also won 16 seats.  Another “liberal” coalition – “Social Democratic Party - Liberal Democratic Party -  League of Social Democrats” of Vojvodina, abbreviated in Serbian as “SDS-LDP-LSV”, has 13 seats.  SDS-LDP-LSV supports a pro-NATO course for Serbia. The coalition “Dveri Movement - Democratic Party of Serbia”, abbreviated in Serbian as “Dveri-DSS” has the least number of parliamentarians – 13. Dveri-DSS is classified as having a “pro-Russian” bent.

What is the way forward? “European path” or cargo cult

Now, even if Vucic would have received an all-round Europhile national assembly, a certain obstacle looms from nearby Croatia. At the meeting of the Committee on EU enlargement in Brussels, which took place in early April, Croatia did not give consent for the opening of Chapter 23 of the negotiations between Serbia and the EU. This incurred the angry reaction of the Serbian government, which stated: “The Government of the Republic of Serbia is stunned with Croatia’s decision not to support Serbia’s European path. The Republic of Croatia did not have a single valid reason for such a decision. Serbia has taken a note of the attitude of the Republic of Croatia’s stance and Serbia will not allow to be blackmailed by anyone in Europe and the world, including the Republic of Croatia, or to be humiliated”.

An obstacle, even more, important than the inexplicable lack of support from neighboring Croatia is the stance of Serbia on the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia. Serbia’s position on this issue has been consistent: "Serbia will not falter in the face of pressure to introduce sanctions against Russia". The “EU will ask Serbia to politically renounce Russia”, writes the Serbian daily Blic. According to the daily, sanctions against Moscow will be a condition for opening the Accession Chapter 31 on foreign policy, even though the economic cost of imposing such sanctions would be impossible to bear.

Cargo cults often develop during a combination of crises – political, economic, social. Vucic’s apparent expectation is that riches would magically flow to Serbia as soon as the country is an EU-member. That is at least what he says, ignoring the crisis in the EU and the reality that it benefits from leeching out money from the periphery via austerity and privatizations. He seemingly cradles the hope that EU-membership will solve Serbia’s economic troubles. One look at the neighboring states, which are EU-members but mired in poverty and social inequality, should convince him otherwise. But Balkan politicians hardly ever look at their neighbors. None of them considers developing a mutually-beneficial joint regional strategy for Balkan cooperation, which would help address the acute economic and other development issues. Instead, the structural problems are patched by piecemeal, under-funded solutions, while the Balkan politicians continue waiting expectantly, pleadingly, pathetically for mythical investors and benefactors from beyond the Balkan borders. Or that is what they tell their public.

Related ARTICLES

NATO’s Wish List: de-Finlandization in Europe

NATO’s Wish List: de-Finlandization in Europe

NATO is currently working hard to make Finland and Sweden join the military bloc. De-Finlandization is clearly high on the agenda.

25 May 2016

by Normunds Grostins

US warship dangerously close to Russian coast?

US warship dangerously close to Russian coast?

A little context always puts things into better perspective, so here we go. Grab an atlas.

18 April 2016

by Danielle Ryan

What are European Values and What Do They Mean?

What are European Values and What Do They Mean?

Our values – usually called "European values" – were a staple of discussions in the 1990s.

04 April 2016

by Patrick Armstrong

POPULAR ARTICLES

Not Found

OPINION

Vladimir Golstein

Vladimir Golstein

The Danderous Acceptance of Donald Trump

James N. Green

James N. Green

Politics in Brazil: Fasten Your Seat Belts!

Barbara H. Peterson

Barbara H. Peterson

Health officials confirm spread of Zika virus through sexual contact in Texas, first in US

Danny Haiphong

Danny Haiphong

WHY IS OTTO(SUPER)MAN ERDOGAN LOSING HIS CHARISMA?

Miray Aslan

Miray Aslan

How relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a breaking point

Navid Nasr

Navid Nasr

How relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a breaking point

Writers

chief editor

Joshua Tartakovsky

Analysis should serve as a method to better understand our world, not to obscure it.

Materials: 42

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Materials: 7

Specialization: Balkans, NATO and EU policies, Strategic communications

Materials: 3

Specialization: Foreign politics, Immigration, Human rights.

Materials: 2

Specialization: Political Science, Social Anthropology

Materials: 3

Specialization: Eastern Europe

Materials: 14

Specialization: Industrial Safety, Corporations

Materials: 12

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

Materials: 3

Specialization: American history, way of life, and principles

Danielle Ryan

Ireland

Materials: 10

Specialization: US foreign policy, US-Russia relations and media bias

Materials: 20

Specialization: War, Racism, Capitalist exploitation, Civil rights

Materials: 8

Specialization: Modern Japanese History, Modern Chinese History, Military History, History of Counterinsurgency, History of Disobedience, Dynamics of Atrocities in Wartime

Dovid Katz

Lithuania

Materials: 3

Specialization: Holocaust Revisionism and Geopolitics; East European Far Right & Human Rights; Yiddish Studies & Litvak Culture

Materials: 20

Specialization: History, Catalunya, Spain, Geopolitics, Nationalism in Europe, Islamization, Immigration

Materials: 5

Materials: 3

Specialization: migration, international relations

Materials: 1

Specialization: Syria, US Foreign policy and strategies, BRICS/SCO

Materials: 19

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

Materials: 10

Specialization: Jihadist Groups, Islamic Terrorism, Global Security

Materials: 4

Specialization: Geopolitics

Materials: 4

Specialization: Media and government relations

Materials: 2

Specialization: Latin America, Brazil

Jay Watts

Canada

Materials: 2

Specialization: History, Marxism-Leninism, Imperialism, Anti-imperialism.

Materials: 2

Specialization: International Relations, Sociology, Geostrategy

Materials: 1

Specialization: civil rights

Lionel Baland

Belgium

Materials: 22

Specialization: Euroscepticism, Patriotic parties of Europe

Maram Susli

Australia

Materials: 3

Specialization: Geopolitics

Materials: 2

Specialization: Civil rights, Racism, US politics

Materials: 1

Specialization: geopolitics, economics

Max J. Schindler

Palestine-Israel

Materials: 9

Specialization: Politics

Miray Aslan

Turkey

Materials: 12

Specialization: Media, Politics

Materials: 5

Specialization: Politics, International relations

Navid Nasr

Croatia

Materials: 13

Specialization: Global security, Politics

Materials: 9

Specialization: Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

Materials: 9

Specialization: Greece, Crisis of the US hegemony; Israel / Occupied Palestine, Oppression of Black people in the US

Materials: 4

Specialization: geopolitics, Russia, USSR

Pedro Marin

Brazil

Materials: 17

Specialization: Latin America, Ukraine, North Korea

Materials: 13

Specialization: Sustainable development, International relations, Comparative European politics, European integration, Eastern European politics and EU-Russia relations

Materials: 8

Specialization: Politics

Materials: 16

Specialization: Counterterrorist Finance

Seyit Aldogan

Greece

Materials: 3

Specialization: ISIS, Middle East, Globalization, Migrant crisis

Materials: 1

Specialization: Head of "Srebrenica Historical Project"

Materials: 3

Specialization: Economy, Social politics

Stevan Gajic

Serbia

Materials: 1

Specialization: Full time researcher at the Institute for European Studies

Materials: 5

Specialization: Geopolitics, Geoeconomics

Materials: 2

Specialization: Civil rights

Tobias Nase

Germany

Materials: 8

Specialization: Syria, US Foreign policy, Ukraine

Valerijus Simulik

Lithuania

Materials: 2

Specialization: Politics and economics in Baltic States, education and science, non - governmental organizations, globalization and EU

Van Gelis

Greece

Materials: 17

Specialization: Middle East

Materials: 1

Specialization: Kosovo, Serbia, Belgrad bombing

Materials: 5

Specialization: international relations, Russia

toTop