During the 1990s, Serbia suffered a long and turbulent period of civil conflict, international isolation, and political fragmentation. Following the assassination of the country’s reform-driven prime minister in 2003, the government faced the daunting tasks of determining how to improve economic options for citizens and rejoin the global community. A core group of reformers in Serbia’s fragmented government decided that the best path to stability and development lay in the pursuit of membership in the European Union (EU). The accession process potentially offered a way to help develop both a new, shared identity and a set of national priorities. But to meet the EU’s demanding requirement that Serbia harmonize its legislation and administration with EU standards, the group’s leaders would have to overcome political opposition and win the cooperation of the ministries. The tasks were all the more difficult because the EU and its member states were initially unwilling to let Serbia move ahead with the accession process. Reformers in the Serbian government worked closely with the country’s European Integration Office, staffed by an ambitious group of committed civil servants. As a result of their work, from 2007 to 2010 Serbia enacted a series of unilateral measures that kick-started harmonization with EU law and signaled to the European Commission in Brussels that Serbia was serious about its future in the EU. Because the reformers were so focused on pursuing accession, they did Not have much opportunity to think independently about national priorities and formulate a separate national development strategy. But they did achieve a desired goal: Serbia’s 2012 acceptance as a candidate for EU membership, after which long-awaited membership negotiations commenced at the start of 2014.
George Gavrilis drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2014. Michael Scharff conducted additional interviews in London, England and Paris, France in June and July 2014. Valentina Đureta of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence provided vital logistical support for the case study. This case study was funded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung ReformCompass. Case published September 2014.
Associated Interview(s): Sonja Licht