By Bojana Milovanovic
Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic’s will meet with EU officials in Brussels on Thursday (June 14th), in what will be important for setting the tone for his relationship with both the EU and with neighbouring countries following controversial statements he made in the days after assuming the presidency.
Nikolic, a nationalist politician who took office May 31st and was former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic, publicly advocates a pro-European policy and said he wants Serbia to join the EU, but created controversy in neighbouring nations after denying genocide in Srebrenica and saying that Vukovar is not a Croatian municipality.
Nikolic is also considered likely to take a harder line against Kosovo than his predecessor, Boris Tadic. Both men reject Kosovo’s independence, but Tadic was criticised by Kosovo Serbs as too willing to negotiate with Pristina to gain EU candidate status.
That Nikolic has not had the best reception in the region is also illustrated by the fact that of all the countries of the former Yugoslavia, only the representatives from Montenegro and Republika Srpska attended the reception following his inauguration.
However, analysts believe Serbia will not suffer any serious consequences in the European integration process if Nikolic’s, as they put it, rash statements do not repeat. They also point out that the duty of the president is to represent Serbia in the world, but it is foremost a post of protocol — hence there will be no repercussions if the still-awaited new cabinet is pro-European.
The negotiations on the new government remain in progress, even though the general election wrapped up on May 6th. Tadic is the most serious candidate for prime minister.
Each president and government are given 100 days for the assessment of their moves and policy, and the same chance should be given to Nikolic, Faculty of Political Sciences professor Predrag Simic said.
“Serbia and its European path are still not suffering any major consequences; these are just warnings and verbal reactions. Only after the visit to Brussels can we expect certain long-term indicators,” Simic told SETimes.
Dejan Vuk Stankovic, sociologist and Faculty of Philosophy fellow, said Nikolic’s initial diplomatic clumsiness will be neutralised if the new cabinet sticks to the European course.
“His statements indicate that he is making mistakes in diplomatic communication, which are not being received well in Brussels and are putting Serbia under a sort of magnifying glass,” Stankovic told SETimes.
He does not expect that Nikolic will make any changes to his positions, adding that the new president will find it difficult to achieve the level of communication in the region that Tadic did in his eight years in office.
“If we have a government with a clear European programme and regional co-operation, then Nikolic’s views will be relativised; but if a government that shares his opinions is appointed, then that will be a period of stagnation or even regression in regional relations. That will imply a greater degree of scepticism towards Serbia at the regional and EU level, which will affect the already complex process of Serbia’s European integration,” Stankovic said.
Vladimir Goati, president of the NGO Transparency Serbia, said he believes that Nikolic’s public statements will cause little, if any, harm.
“I think everything will be cleared up very quickly and that all will be resolved with the formation of the new government,” Goati told SETimes.