chapter  5
Serbia in search of stability and accountability cR IStINA DAl lARA A ND IRE NA MARČ E tA
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Introduction The Serbian case features an uncommonly strong resistance to the European Union (EU) integration process. For this reason it represents a theoretically promising case for assessing the impact of European input on domestic political and legal institutions. The following pages will specifically deal with the European impact on national mechanisms of intra-institutional accountability. Due to the lack of an overall consensus over foreign policy issues, which catalysed harsh political conflicts in the country, the political relationships between Serbia and European institutions have been characterized by several ups and downs since 2000. After the democratic change that occurred in 2000, Serbia got involved in the Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) and, in accordance with the Council of Feira (2000), acquired the status of potential candidate for EU membership. Since then European conditionality has been formally applied. In this first period of democratization (2001-2003), EU conditionality addressed both the problem of the relationship Serbia had with Montenegro1 and collaboration with the International Court Tribunal of Yugoslavia (ICTY). Due to the high costs imposed by ICTY, the latter became one of the most controversial and critical aspects of the EU-Serbia relationship and, as a consequence, part of the Serbian elite sought protection from Moscow, forming a strong anti-EU political bloc. A significant change in EU-Serbia relations occurred with the parliamentary election that took place in May 2008. The result of the election caused party shuffling that brought about a slight weakening of the anti-EU bloc and the creation of a new government with an EU agenda. Both the EU agenda, which underlines the harmonization of domestic legislation with EU standards, and the ruling elite’s electoral promises to open the door to stronger EU influence have had an impact on the domestic decision-making process. Although it is too early to say that Serbia is finally on the road to Europe, it seems that the incumbent President Tadić, whose position was strengthened by the last election, is the ‘right man’ the EU has been looking for since at least 2003. Until 2008, the slow pace of Serbia in its progress towards EU membership (Serbia only recently signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA)

and still did not apply for membership), the presence of anti-EU forces and a perception of the ‘eastern allies’ (Russia, China, India) as the alternative direction in foreign policy, have all diminished the EU’s capacity to successfully use conditionality for rule promotion.2 The presence of a sharp political conflict between the pro-EU and anti-EU bloc, conflict over the goal, speed and content of reforms, the difficult heritage of the Milošević regime and unsolved problems concerning statehood (relations with Montenegro and the status of Kosovo), combined with weak EU influence unable to compensate for the negative domestic setting, have all contributed to delaying Serbia’s full democratization. The country is thus still coping with the basic problems of the state’s borders, and many necessary reforms are still pending. Meanwhile the overall politicization, the lack of the ruling elite’s accountability and the lack of judicial independence testify to the very low quality of Serbian electoral democracy. In such assets, the lack of a basic consensus over key questions (statehood, reforms, foreign policy) and the strong polarization of the political setting represent the most serious obstacles to changing the status quo. Since 2003, the centrifugal tendencies of political competition have increased the ideological distance between pro-EU and anti-EU forces. At the same time, electoral results pointed out that the centre was slowly emptying and support for the two extremes of the pro/anti EU dimensions of policy was growing. Finally, at the beginning of 2008, the shock provoked by the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence and the conflict over EU-Serbia relations brought the centre to breaking point. A period of high instability and political stalemate started. Fortunately, such a period lasted for only few months with only sporadic episodes of protest and violence, after which a reshuffling of the party’s positions allowed for the new party system to emerge. The new party system still preserves a large ideological distance. It also sees the anti-EU extreme weakened due to the split of the nationalistic Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and the secession of the more moderate fraction.