Sunday

26th Feb 2017

Serb nationalist wins elections, pledges EU allegiance

  • Nikolic: 'These elections were not about whether Serbia will go to the EU' (Photo: Micki)

Serb nationalist Tomislav Nikolic has said he backs Serbia's EU bid after his surpise victory in presidential elections on Sunday (20 May).

He beat the incumbent and Western-favoured candidate Boris Tadic with 50.21 of votes after opinion polls had predicted a Tadic win.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The 62-year-old Nikolic was deputy prime minister under the so-called "butcher of the Balkans" Slobodan Milosevic. In the post-war years, he ran the far-right Serbian Radical Party together with Vojislav Seselj - currently on trial for war crimes - before re-branding himself as pro-European.

He said after his victory on Sunday that: "Serbia will not walk away from its path to the EU."

But his campaign focused on the Serbian economy and quality of life rather than its EU prospects.

Serbia is suffering from high sovereign debt, corruption, 24 percent unemployment and low wages, with average monthly salaries at around €400. Nikolic pledged to increase taxes on the rich to help pay for social benefits and pensions and to invest in agriculture and industry.

"These elections were not whether about Serbia will go to EU, they were about solving problems that [Tadic's] Democratic Party has created in Serbia," he said.

For his part, Tadic lost the vote despite succesfully steering Serbia to EU candidate status earlier this year.

Widely endorsed by EU leaders in the run-up to Sunday's vote, he gained the EU status at the cost of normalising relations with breakaway Kosovo and delivering two Serb war crimes fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, to join Nikolic's former ally Seselj in The Hague.

Nikolic's Serbian Progressive Party also won parliamentary elections on 6 May and aims to form a ruling coalition with the Socialist Party, led by Milosevic's wartime spokesman Ivica Dacic.

Meanwhile, top EU officials Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso messed up their reaction to Sunday's vote.

The pair first congratulated Nikolic three hours before polls closed and six hours before the official result, raising concerns that their remarks might have influenced the vote. They retracted the message shortly afterward and published a new communique on Monday, with a European Commission spokesman calling the whole business a "technical mistake."

A senior Western diplomat based in Pristina previously told EUobserver that Nikolic is disliked in Brussels and Washington. "Nobody takes him seriously," the source said in an interview late last year.

Update: this story was amended at 12.30 Brussels time on 21 May to include the latest information on the EU statement gaffe

Opinion

Serbia: deja vu no more

In a sign of gradual normalisation, Serbia's core concerns now mirror those of much of Europe, writes Dimitar Bechev.

Opinion

The euro crisis should not stop enlargement

Neglecting the Western Balkans because of the euro crisis would be dangerous for the EU and undermine all the progress made in the region since the dark days of the 1990s, writes Dimitar Bechev.

Opinion

EU must open its eyes to Balkan realities

The EU does not seem to understand the urgency of the situation in the Balkans, even though it has hundreds of diplomats and officials posted to the region, writes Jeton Zulfaj.

Interview

'Don't push Turkey away', says writer Elif Shafak

Novelist and essayist Elif Shafak said that isolating Turkey would "play into the hands of populism" and that liberals everywhere should defend their values with "emotional intelligence".

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  2. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  3. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  4. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  5. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  6. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  7. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  8. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EURORDISJoin Rare Disease Day and Help Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  3. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  4. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  5. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  6. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  7. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  9. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  10. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations