New Serbia president wants EU entry without giving up Kosovo | News | DW | 31.05.2012
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New Serbia president wants EU entry without giving up Kosovo

Serbia's new president, Tomislav Nikolic, has been sworn in. He set out his priorities in his first speech: EU entry with Kosovo as part of its territory and diplomatic lines to both the East and the West.

Nikolic was sworn in on Thursday during the first session of Serbia's new parliament. The former opposition leader reiterated his support for the country's bid to join the European Union.

"I want Serbia as a European Union member and as a country that will never renounce its territorial integrity, including Kosovo," Nikolic told the parliament.

Nikolic has made clear that he will not abandon Serbia's claim to its former province of Kosovo, whose 2008 declaration of independence is rejected by most of Serbia's political class. Serbia has insisted on its sovereignty over Kosovo, but has still taken steps to improve relations with its former province to better its chances of joining the EU.

Nikolic also used the speech to underline his view that Serbia must maintain close relations to Russia as well as the EU.

"I want a house with two doors, to the East and to the West," he said.

Known for his admiration of Russia, Nikolic visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend. He has said his first visit as president will be to Brussels.

Rebranded as a conservative

Nikolic's success in a presidential runoff vote on May 20 came as a surprise. Incumbent Boris Tadic was widely considered a shoe-in to serve for a third five-year term. Now Tadic is maneuvering to retain power as prime minister.

It's likely that bid will be successful. Although Nikolic's Progressive Party won the greatest number of seats in parliament, Tadic's Liberal Democrats have more allies in the assembly to form a government.

Nikolic was once an ally of nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic. He served as deputy prime minister in a coalition with Milosevic when NATO bombed Serbia to drive its troops out of Kosovo during a 1998-99 war. Known previously as a hardline nationalist, in recent years Nikolic has attempted to rebrand himself from being staunchly anti-Western to espousing a more pro-EU conservative stance.

The Serbian presidency is a largely ceremonial office.

ncy/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)