Developments in Serbia

Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Changed: Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Through a series of reforms, former Serbian government has worked to get a candidate status for the European Union, which was granted in March 2012. The current government has stated that further EU integration and economic development are of top priority. The government has also set as its goal to act against widespread corruption in the country. The willingness to reform still appears to persist, however, the capacity to implement reforms varies.

In 2009, Serbia formally applied for EU membership. The candidate country status was granted in March 2012. Serbia is expected to already have fulfilled most of the requirements for the opening of accession negotiations. On 26th of May, 2011 Serbian police arrested the former Yugoslav commander Ratko Mladic, who, since 1995, is accused and indicted of war crimes by the tribunal in The Hague, ICTY.

Cooperation with the ICTY has been of central importance for Serbia's relations with the EU, as was the improvement of relations with neighbouring countries. In March 2010, the Serbian Parliament adopted the resolution condemning the massacre in Srebrenica which stirred up strong feelings in the country, as the massacre had earlier been denied by leading politicians.

At the moment, the greatest obstacle to Serbia’s EU accession is the Kosovo issue. Implementation of the agreement signed in Brussels and normalisation of relations are preconditions for Serbia to get a date to start membership negotiations. At the same time, there is a considerable disagreement in Serbian politics about what approach Serbia should have towards both the EU and Kosovo.

Harmonisation with European standards continues and several important laws and strategies have been adopted over the years. But the country still has a long way to go in order to integrate EU laws and regulations, especially with regard to the rule of law. Corruption is also prevalent in many areas in the Serbian society in spite of the existing laws and institutions.

Discrimination against minority groups, particularly Roma and LGBT people, continues to be a problem. Both the rule of law and awareness about human rights are considered low in comparison with other European countries. The situation has gradually improved, but the commitment of the government has so far been insufficient. A telling example is the cancellation of the Pride Parade in Belgrade for two consecutive years.

Continued economic crisis and high unemployment

The deep economic crisis that hit the country has led to budget cuts and the closure of governmental institutions, which has partly also affected Sida's work. In 2012, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 2 per cent. The difficult economic situation has led to increased unemployment, increased corruption, general deterioration in living standards and widespread distrust in the country's future.

The high unemployment rate is an alarming factor in the Serbian economy. At the end of March 2013, it was estimated that close to 27 per cent of Serbia’s working-age population is unemployed. Particularly hard hit are young people under the age of 30, where more than half of them are unemployed. Also women and minorities are over-represented among the unemployed.

Formally, Serbia has good potential to achieve gender equality. The institutional framework to implement gender equality is however weak, and the issue does not trickle down through government's collective behaviour. Violence against women and discrimination in the workplace are a problem, and women are also under-represented in politics and decision-making.

Half a million young people have left the country during the 90s. Along with a negative population growth, Serbia ends up fifth in the world when it comes to the proportion of elderly people among the population. The aging population also means that pension payments swallow up a quarter of the state budget.

EU – Serbia’s biggest donor

EU is the biggest contributor in Serbia with financial support of EUR 202 million (2012). The money is aimed to help build democratic institutions, energy and infrastructure and help the country take responsibility for EU funds in the best possible way. EU support also goes into privatisation of companies in a socially responsible manner. In this area, the work has started long before the global financial crisis.

Sweden, the third largest bilateral donor after the United States and Germany, focuses its support on three areas:

  • Democracy
  • Human rights
  • Natural resources and environment

Read more about our work in Serbia.

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