Politics article on New Serb president reassures EU, heads to Russia regarding Lajcak, Serbian, Western, Serbia, Coalition, Nikolic, European, Party, Ultranationalist, Election, Parliamentary, Tadic, Nikolic
Serbian President-elect Tomislav Nikolic told the European Union on Thursday he would "insist" the country stick to its pro-European path, a day before heading to Russia on his first foreign trip since being elected.
A former leader of the ultranationalist Radical Party, Nikolic defeated liberal incumbent Boris Tadic on Sunday, triggering speculation the country might abandon the pro-Western course steered by reformists since the overthrow of late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
The EU dispatched Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak to Belgrade, where he pressed political leaders to quickly form a new ruling coalition committed to taking Serbia into the EU after an inconclusive parliamentary election on May 6.
Nikolic told Lajcak he would "insist particularly on the continuation of Serbia's European path", his party said in a statement, as well as the forging of a national consensus on the question of Kosovo, Serbia's former southern province that Western powers recognize as independent.
Asked about Nikolic's trip to Russia, where he will attend President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party congress on Saturday, Lajcak said the new president's first official foreign trip after being sworn in next month would be to Brussels.
Aides to Nikolic, a former cemetery manager known by the nickname "Gravedigger", have stressed the Moscow visit had been planned in advance of his shock election victory.
"I told Mr Nikolic that he's of course now in the situation where he is sending signals and creating first impressions of how he will act as president," Lajcak told reporters, speaking in Serbian.
"He told me the European future of Serbia is his priority, and that he would act as such as president."
WEST WANTS GRAND COALITION?
Nikolic's Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) narrowly won the parliamentary election, capitalizing on deep frustration among Serbs over the grinding transition from socialism to capitalism and a culture of cronyism that critics say has crept in under the reformers who ousted Milosevic.
But Tadic's Democratic Party (DS), which came second, could retain control of the government and the more powerful post of prime minister in a renewed coalition with the third-placed Socialist Party led by Milosevic's wartime spokesman Ivica Dacic.
Nikolic's victory threw the coalition talks into doubt and drove the Serbian dinar to record lows against the euro. It was trading on Thursday at 115.7.
Unemployment has reached 24 percent, while the Serbian economy risks stagnation and possibly recession this year, as the Balkan region is pummeled by the crisis in the euro zone, its main source of trade and investment.
Dacic, who also met Lajcak, said he favored a deal with the Democrats, but that "some Western countries want the DS and SNS to form the government," the state news agency Tanjug reported.
Analysts say some Western capitals favor a so-called "grand coalition" between Tadic's Democrats and Nikolic's SNS, believing it would be more stable and capable of pursuing the reforms asked of Serbia as it presses for EU accession talks.
Nikolic has tried to shed his ultranationalist image, rebranding himself as a modern, pro-EU conservative since splitting in 2008 from his firebrand mentor Vojislav Seselj, who is now standing trial for war crimes in The Hague.