Serbia's Route to Europe
The German foreign minister calls on the Serbian President elect Tomislav Nikolić, who won the elections last Sunday with 50.2 percent of the votes, to maintain Serbia's commitment to the EU. Berlin and Brussels had opposed Nikolić for a long time. The nationalist had been one of the fiercest opponents of Kosovo's internationally illegal secession, promoted by Berlin. He always supported Belgrade's orientation on Moscow. Recently however, he made headlines, when he changed his strategy to close cooperation with Germany and the EU. On the occasion of the NATO summit on Monday, Guido Westerwelle said that it is "crucial" that "Serbia continues to pursue a pro-European course." The German foreign minister explicitly thanked the incumbent President Boris Tadić (Demokratska Stranka, DS), who lost the elections with 46.8 percent of the votes, "for his relentless engagement along Serbia's route to Europe."
Under Tadić' leadership, until now, Berlin's preference in Belgrade's establishment, Serbia's economy has collapsed dramatically, resulting in dramatic social depredation. The effects of the European economic crisis, which began in 2008, have sharpened the situation created by his neo-liberal privatization policy of shutting down many essential enterprises, causing the liquidation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Unemployment rose from already 14 percent high in 2008 to close to 25 percent currently. In Serbia (with a population of 7.2 million), nearly a million are out of work. The German GIZ development agency, which is advising the former industrialized country, estimates that "due to hidden unemployment" the "unofficial" unemployment rate is "much higher." Already in the spring of 2011, unemployment among the youth was - officially - rated at 41 percent. Of the approximately 1.8 million employees, in 2010, 130,000 were working without pay, 400,000 were working for the minimum wage - approx. 150 Euros per month. Currently, the average monthly wage is at 350 Euros. This severe impoverishment led to a recent wave of mass protests and strikes. In reference to the government record of its long time Serbian protégée, even the conservative CSU-affiliated Hanns Seidel Foundation declared that "DS chairman and Serbia's President, Boris Tadić, had concentrated practically the entire power of state in his own hands and therefore, he bears responsibility for the social and economic misery, the unemployment, the corruption and the unsuccessful privatization."
An economic change of policy is not to be expected from Nikolić (Srpska Napredna Stranka, SNS), winner of the elections. According to a study produced by the Left Party - affiliated Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the question of whether the "neo-liberal approach of unconditional integration onto the world market and rivalry for foreign investments" can "initiate sustainable growth and create the leeway necessary for an active social policy," plays "almost no role" in public Serbian discourse. "Even the privatization policy practiced until now," is "not basically put into question" - not even by Nikolić, who differs from Tadić only in the fact that he places more significance on future Russian investments. In regards to the anticipated development, the study writes that "the austerity policy and the budgetary discipline will continue to be imposed under the surveillance of the creditors, the IMF, World Bank and the EU." There are no indications that Nikolić will deviate from this course.
German enterprises in Serbia are therefore satisfied. According to a February 2012 poll, around two-thirds of the German companies in Serbia could announce an increase in their receipts and assets for 2011, while the population of the country is being driven ever deeper into poverty. This year, more than half of them are already anticipating higher profits. German direct investments in Serbia amount to around 1.5 billion Euros, according to the German-Serbian Economic Association. In 2011 alone, there were 63 million Euros in new investments. More new investments are expected both this year and over the next few years. Serbia today, is one of "the most favored investment locations for German companies in Central and Eastern Europe," reported the CEO of the German-Serbian Economic Association. In fact, Germany is not only Serbia's primary investor but also its most important trading partner. It is the largest customer for cheap Serbian products - 11.3 percent of the country's total exports - and the second largest supplier (10.8 percent) just behind Russia, which, thanks only to its energy resources exports, places ahead of Germany. According to Germany Trade and Invest, Germany's official foreign trade agency, only the Euro crisis could jeopardize a continuation of this growth, - if the southern Euro countries are forced to reduce their Serbian imports due to the German austerity policy.
The European Leading Power
Particularly German companies can benefit from Belgrade's change of government. Just a few days ago, the new president Nikolić, told a very influential German daily that he considers "Germany to be the European leading power." His "first visit to a western capital (...) will take him to Berlin." Germany bears "a great responsibility for Serbia" and therefore, should engage itself accordingly. Nikolić, who will speak this Friday at the congress of the ruling United Russia Party, and who maintains close contacts to Moscow, offers Serbia, as a manufacturing site, to Berlin within the framework of a German-Russian-Serbian cooperation. "Germany does not need the EU to cooperate with Russia," declared Nikolić referring to German-Russian cooperation in the recent past. "Germany and Russia could also cooperate via Serbia. Germany can establish factories here and export to Russia," even "at reduced customs tariffs," thanks to Serbia's ties to Russia. Nikolić's offer is strategically conceived. Should the Euro crisis lead to a permanent weakening of the EU, an expansion of German-Russian cooperation could play a central role.
No Friend of Hitler
In view of this perspective, the cooperation between Nikolić and his SNS Party and the German nationalist Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is of particular significance. In June 2011, SNS Chairman Nikolić and FPÖ Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache signed a Partnership Agreement in Vienna. This agreement includes as its objective "the maintenance of national identity" as well as the "effective protection of Europe against the patronization by super-power imperialism," the latter obviously referring to the United States. According to SNS and FPÖ "Europe," should take a greater distance to the USA. Like Nikolić and the SNS, the FPÖ is also clearly oriented toward a Europe under German leadership. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Albeit, during the signing of the Partnership Agreement ceremony in Vienna, Nikolić made clear that he has a "negative opinion of Hitler." In this question, he is totally "indifferent to what his host would say."