Serbia approves pro-EU government

The Serbian parliament has approved a pro-Western government formed by an unlikely coalition of Euro partisans and former Milosevic followers, with EU membership at the top of its foreign policy agenda. (Photo: Prime Minister Mirko Cvetovic)


Serbia's parliament approved late Monday a new Western-leaning government that has made membership of the European Union its foreign policy priority.

After a day-long debate, 127 of 164 deputies present at the session voted for the new cabinet led by Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, while 27 MPs were against. Ten deputies did not vote.

The governing coalition is an unlikely union between pro-Europeans and the Socialists of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

President Boris Tadic has appointed economist Cvetkovic prime minister of the new administration, whose formation ends five months of political deadlock triggered by Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia.

The outgoing coalition, a shaky union of Tadic's pro-Europeans and the nationalists of Vojislav Kostunica, collapsed in March over a dispute about a preparatory agreement for EU accession.

That came after most EU nations recognised Kosovo's independence, a move rejected by Serbia which has pledged to keep its former province within its borders.

"I pledge allegiance to the Republic of Serbia and promise with my honour that I will respect the Constitution... and be devoted to preserving Kosovo within Serbia," Cvetkovic and his ministers said after being sworn in.

In his address to the parliament before the vote, Cvetkovic said that "full-fledged EU membership is the core interest of the Republic of Serbia and its citizens."

"Therefore, one of the first moves of the new government will be to submit the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) to the National Parliament for ratification," he said.

The new government pairs the coalition "For a European Serbia" (ZES), led by Tadic's Democratic Party (DS), with a group of parties headed by the Socialist Party (SPS).

The Democrats had been among the fiercest opponents of the SPS since the 1990s, when with Milosevic at the helm, it led the country to war and isolation.

Late DS leader Zoran Djindjic was the architect of a popular uprising that ousted Milosevic in 2000, while the SPS deemed unforgivable his decision to hand the former strongman over to the UN war crimes tribunal the following year.

However, both sides now vow to reconcile their differences in order to move Serbia forward and towards the EU.

Brussels has already said it would support Serbia's new government, which would aim to join the 27-nation bloc within four years, according to Cvetkovic.

"The government's main objective is for Serbia to gain EU candidate country status by the end of this year or by the beginning of next year, through the acceleration of economic and other reforms envisaged by the SAA," he said.

Cvetkovic also pledged strict "prompt" compliance with all international obligations -- a clear reference to demands that the new government deliver remaining war crimes suspects, including Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, to the UN tribunal in The Hague.

"This is the only way our country can become a full-fledged and respected member of the international community," he said.

However, he used much stronger words to state that Kosovo should remain within Serbia's boundaries.

"There is a full consent among the coalition members that the new government will never recognise the independence of Kosovo and ... will undertake all legal and diplomatic measures so as to preserve Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia," he said.

The opposition is dominated by the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party with 78 seats, Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia with 30 and the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) 13 deputies.

During sometimes heated debate, expected to last until late Monday, opposition deputies criticised the proposed cabinet, saying it had too many ministries and lacked clear goals.

The Radicals accused Cvetkovic of being "Tadic's puppet."

"Mirko Cvetkovic will only hold the post, Tadic will be both prime minister and president," charged Vjerica Radeta of the Radical party.

Cvetkovic was finance minister in the government of his predecessor Kostunica. A trained economist, he has worked for the World Bank in India and Pakistan.

He said his government would seek to bring down unemployment and inflation and step up investment in infrastructure, while aiming for annual economic growth of around seven percent.

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