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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - Serbia
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COUNTRY BRIEFS


GENERAL

Serbia is a country of 7,310,555 (July 2011 est.) occupying 77,474 km2 in the Western Balkans. It is bordered in the north by Hungary, to the east by Romania and Bulgaria, to the south by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo, to the south-west by Montenegro, and to the west by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. The capital of Serbia is Belgrade.

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BILATERAL RELATIONS

The relationship between Australia and the Republic of Serbia has its basis in strong community links. In the 2006 Australian Census, 95,364 people identified themselves as having Serbian heritage. Australia has maintained an embassy in Belgrade since 1967.

The value of Australia's merchandise trade with Serbia in 2010-2011 was $11.7 million in Serbia's favour. Exports consisted primarily of beef, medicaments, prams, toys, games and sporting goods, and specialised machinery and parts. The main imports were fruit and vegetables, (prepared and preserved), arms, ammunition and alcoholic beverages.

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POLITICAL

The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia is a 250-seat unicameral legislative body. Deputies are elected for four-year terms under a 'party list' system. The most recent Serbian parliamentary elections were held on 11 May 2008 with a turnout of 61.35 per cent. Final results from Serbia's Electoral Commission show 38.4 per cent of the vote was won by the 'For a European Serbia' coalition, 29.45 per cent by the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), 11.61 per cent by Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and 7.58 per cent by the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). The most pro-Western Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) polled almost the same as in the previous election, with 5.24 per cent of the vote.

The President of Serbia is directly elected for a five-year term, and nominates the prime minister in consultation with the National Assembly. The current President, Mr Boris Tadic, has been in office since 11 July 2004.

Serbia's current government was sworn into office on 7 July 2008 and is led by the Prime Minister, Mr Mirko Cvetkovic. The government is dominated by the pro-European Democratic Party (whose leader is President Tadic) in coalition with the Serbian Socialist Party of former Yugoslav President, the late Slobodan Milosevic. Prime Minister Cvetkovic has stated that the government's priorities are EU membership; rejection of Kosovo's independence; strengthening the economy; increasing the social responsibility of the Government; fighting crime and corruption; and enhancing respect for international law. Serbia's next parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in May 2012.

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THE FORMER STATE UNION OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO

Following the official dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2003, the Federal Parliament adopted a new Constitutional Charter proclaiming the establishment of the state of 'Serbia and Montenegro'. Under the terms of the 2003 Belgrade Agreement, both Serbia and Montenegro had the right to hold a referendum regarding their membership of the union. Montenegro (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/montenegro/mont_brief.html) held such a referendum on 21 May 2006. Official results released on 23 May showed a 55.5 per cent majority in favour of independence, a result narrowly exceeding the 55 per cent mandate required by the European Union for a change to be effected. Hence, the Montenegrin Parliament declared independence on 3 June 2006. The Serbian Parliament followed two days later, and dissolved the state union of Serbia and Montenegro, declaring Serbia the successor state to the union. Australia acknowledges the Republic of Serbia as the continuing entity of the former state union, and officially recognised the independent state of the Republic of Montenegro on 27 June 2006.

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SERBIA AND THE REPUBLIC OF KOSOVO

On 17 February 2008, Kosovo (http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/kosovo/country_brief.html) , formerly an autonomous province within the Republic of Serbia, declared independence. Australia recognised the Republic of Kosovo as an independent state (http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/releases/2008/fa-s034_08.html) on 19 February 2008. To date, over 80 countries have recognised Kosovo's independence, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Since 10 June 1999, Kosovo has been under an interim international administration, with the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) responsible for security and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) performing civilian administration. Their mandates were established by UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

On 9 September 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a joint Serbian-EU resolution on Kosovo by consensus. The resolution acknowledged the July 2010 International Court of Justice advisory opinion (finding that the declaration of independence by Kosovo did not violate international law) and welcomed EU facilitation of dialogue between the parties. Serbia maintains that the resolution is a 'status neutral document' and does not equate to recognition of the unilateral independence of Kosovo. There have been seven rounds (to November 2011) of the 'Belgrade–Pristina Dialogue' focussing on issues of technical cooperation, such as regulating borders and customs, economic cooperation and joint initiatives against organised crime.

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PROGRESS TOWARDS EUROPEAN UNION MEMBERSHIP

Serbia submitted its formal bid for EU candidate status in December 2009. On 19 January 2011, the European Parliament ratified the EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia, which establishes the framework for EU engagement with applicant countries. However the EU Council disappointed Serbian aspirations in December 2011 when it postponed consideration of Serbia's application until March 2012.

In tandem with pursuit of its EU aspirations, Serbia has made substantial efforts to improve its regional relations. President Tadic has been characterised as a proponent of 'reconciliation diplomacy', which, in addition to the 2010 Srebrenica Declaration (a Serbian parliamentary resolution condemning the 1995 massacres), includes Serbia's compromise in agreeing to a joint EU-Serbia UNGA resolution on Kosovo; support for a regional commission to investigate atrocities in the period 1991-2001; and visits to Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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ECONOMY

Serbia's post-Milosevic economic progress has been substantial. Driven primarily by Serbia's membership aspirations to the European Union (EU) and in the World Trade Organization (WTO), economic reform has moved forward in many areas, but challenges remain. Privatization is far from complete and more than 25% of the workforce are employed by state-owned enterprises or government. Unemployment, a lack of liquidity in the economy, corruption, and labour unrest are central to continuing political and economic problems.

The global economic crisis caused Serbia's GDP to plummet to negative 3% in 2009. While 2010-11 saw the beginning of recovery, the crisis in the eurozone and Serbia's exposure to it through trade, investment and banking linkages has seen the National Bank of Serbia revise growth for 2012 down to 1.5%.

Inflation and price increases on controlled products and services, such as public transportation, electricity, and natural gas, have exacerbated the economic pressure on Serbians whose average net incomes have stagnated. The official unemployment rate stood at 22.2% as of April 2011, but is much higher in the provinces and among women and minorities.

In September 2011, Serbia and the IMF reached an agreement giving Serbia access to up to one billion euros. The IMF stated the objectives of the agreement were three-fold: to insulate Serbia from external shocks, to promote tightening of fiscal policy and improving the investment climate in the country.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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