Forgoing a National Strategy Through EU Accession: Serbia, 2007-2012


If there was one thing most Serbian citizens could agree on in 2004, it was the need for a new national vision.
Serbia was still reeling from the crises and conflicts of the 1990s. The multiethnic federation of Yugoslavia had collapsed violently. The republics of Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia had seceded, leaving behind a reduced federation made up of Serbia and Montenegro. By the late 1990s, the violence and talk of secession had spread to the formerly autonomous province of Kosovo, which was dominated by ethnic Albanians and was part of Serbia. A NATO bombing campaign in 1999, which aimed to stop the violence and mass killings in Kosovo, decimated the Yugoslav army and caused major damage to the capital city of Belgrade and to Serbia’s infrastructure.

In October 2000, massive street demonstrations in Belgrade ousted Slobodan Milošević, leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia and president of the country since 1989. In elections later that year, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia — a broad coalition of parties — won federal, parliamentary, and local posts and installed Zoran Đinđić as the new prime minister to work in cooperation with the country’s president, Vojislav Koštunica.1 However, the elections did not bring stability. In 2003, Đinđić was assassinated by a former Special Forces operative who had ties to organized crime and who sympathized with Milošević, whom the prime minister had extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The assassination plunged the country into yet another political crisis. It also convinced a core group of reform-minded politicians and civil servants that they needed a new approach if Serbia was to move forward and leave its past behind.
The country’s seniormost political leaders were of two minds. Boris Tadić, a founding member of the Democratic Party and close associate of Đinđić, won the June 2004 presidential elections. Tadić picked up Đinđić’s mantle, including a proposal to liberalize markets and pursue membership in the European Union (EU) despite the reality that his Democratic Party was a minor partner in a government dominated by Euro-skeptics. That same year, Vojislav Koštunica became prime minister and commanded a strong following in Parliament across a grouping of nationalist and liberal parties, which found his rhetoric appealing: that Serbia must go its own way and not ally itself with the West or the EU.

The reformers backed Tadić, including his aim of EU membership for Serbia. Although the process would be arduous, EU accession offered hope as a lodestar for rallying a divided public around a new set of national aspirations. Furthermore, for the civil service, the accession process provided a framework for action, with deadlines that would inspire achievement. And the process could help revive the bureaucratic cultures of the ministries by focusing staff on a clear mission.

After consulting with the cabinet, Tadić created the Serbian European Integration Office (SEIO) in 2004 and appointed Tanja Miščević director in 2005. Miščević, a specialist in EU affairs, had been coordinating trainings on EU policies for Serbian and Montenegrin government officials. Koštunica, the prime minister, let the SEIO move forward; his skepticism toward the EU stemmed more from indifference than hostility. The SEIO began to meet with civic groups and university faculty in order to frame a strategy. When the strategy appeared in print in 2005, it portrayed EU membership as important for the future well-being of the country’s citizens: “The most important argument in favor of improving the relation with the EU certainly lies in the fact that the very process of association, as well as membership, would create the conditions for both economic and general social development.”

Dr. George GavrilisDr. George Gavrilis
Princeton University

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Gavrilis, George (2014): Forgoing a National Strategy Through EU Accession: Serbia, 2007-2012. Published in: Available online:

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