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EU, OSCE Welcome Serbian Presidential Election

Serbs celebrate nationalist Tomislav Nikolic's election as president in Belgrade on May 20.
Serbs celebrate nationalist Tomislav Nikolic's election as president in Belgrade on May 20.
The European Union has urged President-elect Tomislav Nikolic to continue Serbia's reform path toward EU integration.

In a joint statement issued on May 21, rhe heads of the European Council and European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, said voters had sent a "very clear signal" that Serbians want to pursue EU membership.

The statement added that Nikolic will need to display "a high sense of statesmanship to overcome the more difficult challenges," such as relations with neighboring Kosovo, as Serbia moves closer to the EU and seeks to overcome the legacy of years of war in the Balkans that left tens of thousands of Serbians dead.

Nikolic, 60, a former anti-Western ultra-nationalist turned pro-EU populist, has vowed that "Serbia will not turn away from the European path."

However, international ratings agency Fitch said in a statement on May 21 that Nikolic's election increased "uncertainty" about the country's economic direction.

The agency cautioned against Nikolic's "occasional anti-IMF rhetoric" and said the continuing political stalemate in the country could "make reforms harder to implement."

Nikolic narrowly defeated pro-Western incumbent Boris Tadic in a runoff vote on May 20, in a result that went against preelection opinion polls. Less than half of registered voters cast ballots in the poll.

The outcome ended the reign of reformists, who had held power for nearly 12 years after strongman ruler Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in 2000.

Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy and security chief Catherine Ashton, told journalists in Brussels that European Union leaders would "strongly encourage" President Nikolic and his new government "to achieve the additional progress that would allow the European Commission to recommend the opening of [EU accession] talks [with Serbia] and the European Council to actually to decide to open this recommendation."

Political Backtracking

Critics have warned against hasty predictions about Nikolic's presidency.

They note that the president-elect has a history of political backtracking and could return to being anti-Western.

Nikolic is said to have close ties to Russia and has suggested in the past that Serbia could become a Russian province.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said international observers had found the Serbian presidential election open and highly competitive.

But an OSCE statement also called for more professionalism among electoral workers and greater transparency regarding voter registrations to "enhance the integrity of the electoral process."

The OSCE also welcomed what it described as "the peaceful and orderly voting" in the election among some 110,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo's north.

The voting by Kosovar Serbs was permitted by international authorities -- even though some 90 countries have recognized Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia by the leadership of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

EU foreign policy spokeswoman Kocijancic said on May 21 that the EU would continue to support dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.

She added that these discussions were "firmly embedded in the process of the European integration of Serbia, therefore we expect that the dialogue will continue."

Despite its tilt toward the West, the Serbian government continues to reject Kosovo's independence, which is recognized by most of EU member states and the United States.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL, "We welcome President-elect Nikolic’s reaffirmation of his commitment to Serbia’s European future and we encourage him to work constructively with Serbia’s future prime minister and government to achieve this goal, particularly with respect to regional stability and a constructive relationship with Kosovo."

Belgrade still formally considers Kosovo part of Serbia, even though it lost control of the territory in 1999.

With reporting by AFP
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