Monday

26th Sep 2022

Serbians head to polls for decisive elections

  • Current Serbian president Boris Tadic sees EU integration as the country's only future (Photo: European Commission)

On Sunday (20 January), Serbian citizens will go to the polls to choose their new president in an election likely to strongly influence the country's EU path.

Among the nine candidates competing for the post, two stand out as the most likely to be Serbia's next president – the current president, the pro-Western centrist Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party, and the nationalist eurosceptic Tomislav Nikolic.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Mr Nikolic is the acting head of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), whose official leader Vojislav Seselj is currently on trial in The Hague accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This is the second time both men have faced each other in presidential elections. Mr Tadic beat Mr Nikolic in the second round of elections four years ago.

Currently, polls put the Radical candidate at 21 percent against 19 percent for Mr Tadic, according to French news agency AFP.

A second round between them is expected to take place on 3 February.

The end result is set to have a significant impact on the country's future EU path. Current president Boris Tadic is in favour of his country's European integration and has pledged to get Serbia into the EU.

But Mr Nikolic – although he has softened his rhetoric lately – says he will oppose Belgrade's EU membership so long as Serbia is being "conditioned and humiliated" by Brussels over Kosovo, he recently told AFP.

The Kosovo issue

The issue of Kosovo – Serbia's breakaway province which is currently under UN rule and expected to declare independence in the near future – has been a central element of the pre-electoral campaign.

Both Mr Tadic and Mr Nikolic have repeatedly declared they were not ready to make concessions on the issue.

This week, Mr Tadic reiterated that "our central goal lies in Europe, but with our identity and with Kosovo. We will never give up our European goal or our Kosovo goal," according to Serbian news agency Tanjug.

For his part, Mr Nikolic on Wednesday (16 January) told Moscow daily Vremya Novostei that "we shall not give up Kosovo. If that is the condition for Serbia to join the EU, we shall initiate talks with Brussels and request other development options."

This means that in the event of Kosovo's independence eventually being recognised by the EU, the consequences for Serbia's EU integration process will depend on who the president is.

Although both presidential candidates are categorically against the move, "[Boris] Tadic will continue with EU integration, no matter what happens," while "[Tomislav] Nikolic could take much more drastic measures", Thomas Vanhauwaert of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC) said.

What can the EU do?

There is "not much" the bloc can do to avoid Belgrade cutting itself off, according to Mr Vanhauwaert.

The EU can send Serbia a "positive message" and insist that it wants Belgrade to be part of "the family", but in the end "the Serbian president will have the last say on that," the analyst said.

The possible signing of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia during an EU foreign ministers meeting on 28-29 January had been seen as one way to keep the country on its pro-EU path.

However, some member states – particularly the Netherlands – are opposing the signing of any deal before the UN war crimes tribunal judges that Serbia is fully cooperating with it.

In the end, any major act that could have an influence on the elections' result seems to have been dropped.

The signing of the SAA in January is for now out of the question, sources indicated, adding that EU foreign ministers are still likely to discuss the matter and that their working lunch on 28 January will be devoted to the Serbian question.

In addition, the deployment of the EU Kosovo mission that the bloc's leaders agreed on in December, and that Belgrade opposes, will not be on the ministers' agenda.

But in a move likely to be interpreted as offering a political olive tree to Belgrade, the European Commission on Friday (18 January) announced the launching of a "dialogue" on establishing a visa-free regime with Serbia.

The move will not have immediate concrete results, but is an "important, maybe even a historical step," according to the commission.

"This dialogue is a tangible proof of the political commitments taken by the EU and reaffirms the European perspective of Serbia," EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini stated.

Brussels watches as Serbs head to polls

Serbians will on Sunday elect their new president, in a choice between current pro-Western leader Boris Tadic and his nationalist and eurosceptic opponent Tomislav Nikolic. The elections are seen as crucial for the country's future, particularly in terms of EU integration.

Radical candidate wins first round of Serbian elections

The eurosceptic nationalist candidate of the Serbian Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic, won the first round in the country's presidential elections held on Sunday. He is to face current president Boris Tadic again on 3 February in a run-off that is set to be decisive for the country's future EU integration.

Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory

In Warsaw and Budapest, the prime ministers were quick to congratulate the new Italian leader, who — they hope — will back them in their battles with the EU over civil rights, rule of law and democratic backsliding.

EU seeks crisis powers to take control over supply chains

The Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI) introduces a staged, step-by-step, approach — providing emergency powers to the EU Commission to tackle any potential threat which could trigger disruptions or shortages of key products within the EU.

Testimony from son rocks trial of ex-Czech PM Babiš

In a fraud trial relating to €2m in EU subsidies, Andrej Babiš son testified his signature on share-transfer agreements was forged. He claims his father transferred the shares to him without his knowledge, making him a front man for scheme.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

Editorial

Background reads: Italy's election

With Italy heading to the ballot boxes this Sunday, let's take a look at what EUobserver has published that can help understand the country's swing to the (far)-right.

News in Brief

  1. Confirmed: EU drops call for 'independent' Abu Akleh probe
  2. EU plan to stop firework abuse in football stadiums
  3. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  4. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  5. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  6. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  7. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  8. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory
  2. EU mulls more police powers for west Africa missions
  3. EU fight on illegal fishing must move from paper to online
  4. EU adding Bahamas to tax-haven blacklist
  5. Czech presidency proposes fossil-fuel tax compromise
  6. Ukraine's cyber resistance is impressive - but hard to replicate
  7. 'Grazie Italia': Far-right wins power in Rome
  8. How the EU is failing to help the hippo

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us