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Serbia – along with 5 other Western Balkans countries – was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council summit in 2003. In 2008, awas adopted, setting out priorities for the country's membership application, and in 2009 Serbia formally applied. In March 2012 Serbia was granted EU candidate status. In September 2013 abetween the EU and Serbia entered into force.
In line with the decision of the European Council in June 2013 to open accession negotiations with Serbia, the Council adopted in December 2013and agreed to hold the 1st Intergovernmental Conference with Serbia in January 2014.
Democratic Party of Serbia: Principled disagreement with the EU
The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) is a conservative, centre-right party whose key principles include support to the Serbian Orthodox Church, preservation of traditional moral values, protection of national identity, strengthening of national cultural institutions and protection of the Cyrillic script (DSS 2010a). This party expressed a complex attitude towards the EU and Serbian EU membership. On the one hand, it demonstrated mistrust of the West, primarily the United States of America, and particularly contested the legitimacy of the ICTY. On the other hand, the party supported Serbian EU accession and significantly contributed to this process while it was in power. However, recognition of Kosovo’s independence by a large majority of EU Member States fundamentally affected party attitudes, and since 2008 it has argued for stopping further integration into the EU. The party position may be termed Soft Eurosceptic, since it has never objected to the EU, while as a consequence of principled disagreement with the position of key EU Member States on the issue of the status of Kosovo, it strongly objected to Serbian EU membership.
Suspicion and skepticism towards Europe and the West in general have been a constant feature of a considerable part of Serbian society and politics over the last two decades. Such sentiments particularly flourished at the time of nationalistic euphoria and the wars that raged across the former Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s. While in other Central and Eastern European states ‘returning to Europe’ was a key foreign policy objective and a common theme as a symbol of democracy and prosperity, the leading Serbian parties at that time - the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Serbian Radical Party - were Eurosceptic and nationalist, and their political agenda had nothing to do with potential Serbian accession into the EU. However, in the period after 2000, the political scene in Serbia has experienced a fundamental transformation of a type that is rarely seen in countries with a longer tradition of democratic institutions and multi-party political systems. Some of the hardest nationalists have become vocal advocates of Serbian membership of the EU, while at the same time some of the democratic parties that overthrew Milošević’s regime have turned into key opponents of further Serbian EU accession.
This chapter examines the causes and consequences of the pronounced Eurosceptic sentiments among Serbian political elites. It aims to demonstrate how the question of European integration as a salient political issue has shaped a party system, as well as how it has been used by Eurosceptic parties in their policies and rhetoric since 2000. It also examines whether party ideology or strategy is a key driver of their positions on Europe. In order to capture peculiar features of Serbian party-based Euroscepticism, this analysis employs a framework that draws on and combines the two most widely used theoretical concepts. It examines party attitudes towards Europe, conceptualized as positions on the EU and positions on Serbian EU membership, and classifies parties into four distinct categories: Hard Eurosceptics and Hard Euro enthusiasts as well as Soft Eurosceptics and Soft Euro enthusiasts. The empirical focus of the text is on the Hard Eurosceptic Serbian Radical Party and the Soft Democratic Party of Serbia, and a group of Soft Euro enthusiastic parties - the Serbian Progressive Party, the Socialist Party of Serbia and the New Serbia.