Serb President Sees Second Term Unlikely After EU Work Ends

Updated on
  • Vucic hopes Serbia can join EU a few years before 2025 horizon
  • Plans spring announcement on Kosovo, biggest EU entry hurdle

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic probably won’t seek a second term, as he intends to complete the work needed to lead his country into the European Union when his mandate ends in 2022.

Vucic, who as the leader of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party is the Balkan state’s most powerful politician, said in an interview that he’d announce proposals to tackle the issue of Kosovo -- the biggest hurdle to EU entry -- by early April. He also repeated a vow that Serbia will not join EU nations in imposing sanctions against Russia, though he "can’t guarantee what will happen after I leave this post."

Aleksandar Vucic on Dec. 21.

Photographer: Oliver Bunic/Bloomberg

“Am I going to be the president in 2025? I’m not,” said Vucic, 47, in the presidential palace library in central Belgrade on Thursday. He put the chance of his stepping aside at "99 percent" and said he wouldn’t return to the post of prime minister, which he held before winning an April presidential election. "My idea is to finish my job in this office in the next four and half years and that’s it."

Vucic has vowed to make Serbia ready for EU entry by the start of next decade while maintaining strong ties with Russia. It’s a delicate balancing act: while many Serbs see Russia as a powerful traditional and cultural ally, some EU nations accuse President Vladimir Putin of meddling in their domestic affairs, and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told Serbia in September that it must make clear "that it puts EU integration first."

"What I say in Brussels, when they ask me about our ties with Russia, I say we are traditionally good friends, we have a good relationship and we’ll keep it, and that’s it -- and we are on our EU path," Vucic said, noting that Moscow has supported Belgrade in the debate over Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. "I always say what our politics is, and I say the same thing in Washington, Brussels, Moscow."

The dinar was little changed at 118.825 against the euro at 3 p.m. in Belgrade. It has appreciated 3.8 percent this year, making it the fourth best-performing currency worldwide. The yield on Serbia’s dollar bonds maturing in 2021 dropped 1 basis point to 3.169 percent, a three-week low.

Accession Frontrunners

Support for joining the EU has plunged since last decade. An opinion survey by the Ministry for European Affairs in Belgrade showed that 49 percent of Serbs favored joining the EU in June, versus 27 percent against. That compares with a 73 to 12 for-against split in 2009.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared in September that Serbia and fellow former Yugoslav republic Montenegro were frontrunners in the western Balkan accession process and the bloc would step up work for the region to join the EU through 2025. Vucic said that he and other Serbs "were not very jubilant" about the timing but hearing a date from the bloc’s executive was positive.

"I don’t think it’s the most important issue whether it’s going to be 2023 or 2025 -- the issue is whether we’ll be able to join or not," he said. While he probably wouldn’t be in power if the date is later, his political legacy would be clear: "If we do our job by 2022, everything will be well known in 2022."

The biggest hurdle will be normalizing ties with Kosovo, whose split from Serbia followed the war that ended when a NATO bombing campaign forced out late Serb President Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in 1999. Vucic, who has called for an "internal dialog" over Kosovo, said he’d present a proposal next year, first to Serbs, then to the international community.

While he refused to reveal specifics, he said it will be crucial to improve ties with Albanians, who make up the vast majority of Kosovo’s 1.8 million people -- with the rest mostly ethnic Serbs -- and that both sides would have to make compromises.

"This is one of the last chances to overcome one of the biggest problems in this region, for good," Vucic said. "Both sides will have to be dissatisfied with the solution. And that would be win-win. Otherwise we won’t be able to reach it. But someone on the other side will have to realize that as well."

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