The president of Serbia dissolved the nation's parliament on Friday, saying only a new government can make the reforms it needs to join the European Union.
Serbia's current government is pro-Western and has prioritized joining the EU, but the prerequisites for joining the union include economic development and improved relations with the nation's neighbors.
“Serbia is still a hangover from the former Yugoslavia, and our legal system needs updating,” Srdjan Bogosavljevic, a consultant at the Ipsos polling company, told The New York Times. “No one here sees Europe any longer as a dream, as they once did. But they can’t see any better alternative.”
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former nationalist turned pro-Westerner, first called for a new government in January, but some have questioned whether this is a serious step toward EU membership or a ploy to shore up his party's power, Dan Bilefsky reported for The New York Times.
Serbia applied to join the EU in 2009. Leaders have said the EU will not consider new members until at least 2020, as politicians deal with the union's own economic struggles, the possibility of losing Britain, and a refugee crisis, the BBC reported.
The stream of migrants into and through its territory have challenged Serbia's own efforts at economic reform. Mr. Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party's majority will need additional strength from the upcoming election to both make reforms and amend its constitution to join the EU, Brian Whitmore reported for Radio Free Europe. Polls suggest the April 24 election will give achieve this goal, possibly setting Serbia more firmly on the path toward European Union membership.
If election results are what Vucic has predicted, he can capitalize internally on the gains his country has recently made. Serbia took several concrete steps toward meeting its international obligations to join the EU in 2015, including arresting suspects implicated in the Srebrenica massacre, The Christian Science Monitor wrote:
For the first time, its prosecutors arrested eight of the alleged killers in a massacre that was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II. The 1995 killing of more than 7,000 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia has hung over Serbia for nearly two decades. It has tested the country’s ability to mete out justice, stabilize its democracy, and make peace with its neighbors.
In recent years, as Serbia has sought to join the EU, it finally started to cooperate with an international tribunal set up to deal with war crimes committed during the ethnic-driven wars of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.
The EU has also insisted Serbia normalize relations with Kosovo, which split from Serbia and declared independence in 2008, but neither Serbia nor its traditional ally, Russia, have acknowledged the new country's existence.
Serbia took steps toward reconciliation in August, signing key agreements with Kosovo. The Kosovar foreign minister said the agreements amounted to a de facto recognition of the state, the BBC reported. At that time, the Serbian prime minister said the agreement cleared the way toward joining the EU.
"This is a big achievement for the whole of Serbia and it means there are no longer any obstacles, nothing stands on Serbia's way towards Europe," Vucic said, according to the BBC.