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Serbia: country overview

04 September 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 30 January 2017

Serbia – along with 5 other Western Balkans countries – was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council summit in 2003. In 2008, a European partnership for Serbia was adopted, setting out priorities for the country's membership application, and in 2009 Serbia formally applied. In March 2012 Serbia was granted EU candidate status. In September 2013 a Stabilisation and Association AgreementSearch for available translations of the preceding link••• between the EU and Serbia entered into force. In line with the decision of the European Council in June 2013 to open accession negotiations with Serbia, the Council adopted in December 2013 the negotiating framework and agreed to hold the 1st Intergovernmental Conference with Serbia in January 2014. On 21 January 2014, the 1st Intergovernmental Conference took place, signalling the formal start of Serbia's accession negotiations.



Member of Schengen area: No

Political system: Republic

Capital city: Belgrade

Total area:   77 474 km²

Population: 7.4 million

Currency: Serbian dinar


Economy overview

Serbia has a transitional economy largely dominated by market forces, but the state sector remains significant in certain areas and many institutional reforms are needed. The economy relies on manufacturing and exports, driven largely by foreign investment. MILOSEVIC-era mismanagement of the economy, an extended period of international economic sanctions, civil war, and the damage to Yugoslavia's infrastructure and industry during the NATO airstrikes in 1999 left the economy only half the size it was in 1990.

After former Federal Yugoslav President MILOSEVIC was ousted in September 2000, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition government implemented stabilization measures and embarked on a market reform program. Serbia renewed its membership in the IMF in December 2000 and rejoined the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Serbia has made progress in trade liberalization and enterprise restructuring and privatization, but many large enterprises - including the power utilities, telecommunications company, natural gas company, and others - remain state-owned. Serbia has made some progress towards EU membership, signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Brussels in May 2008, and with full implementation of the Interim Trade Agreement with the EU in February 2010, gained candidate status in March 2012. In January 2014, Serbia's EU accession talks officially opened. Serbia's negotiations with the WTO are advanced, with the country's complete ban on the trade and cultivation of agricultural biotechnology products representing the primary remaining obstacle to accession. Serbia's program with the IMF was frozen in early 2012 because the 2012 budget approved by parliament deviated from the program parameters; the arrangement is now void. In late 2014, Serbia and the IMF announced a tentative plan for a precautionary loan worth approximately $1 billion, but the government will be challenged to implement IMF-mandated reforms that will target social spending and the large public sector.

High unemployment and stagnant household incomes are ongoing political and economic problems. Structural economic reforms needed to ensure the country's long-term prosperity have largely stalled since the onset of the global financial crisis. Growing budget deficits constrain the use of stimulus efforts to revive the economy and contribute to growing concern of a public debt crisis, given that Serbia's total public debt as a share of GDP more than doubled between 2008 and 2014. Serbia's concerns about inflation and exchange-rate stability preclude the use of expansionary monetary policy. During 2014 the SNS party addressed issues with the fiscal deficit, state-owned enterprises, the labor market, construction permits, bankruptcy and privatization, and other areas.

Major challenges ahead include: high unemployment rates and the need for job creation; high government expenditures for salaries, pensions, healthcare, and unemployment benefits; a growing need for new government borrowing; rising public and private foreign debt; attracting new foreign direct investment; and getting the IMF program back on track. Other serious longer-term challenges include an inefficient judicial system, high levels of corruption, and an aging population. Factors favorable to Serbia's economic growth include its strategic location, a relatively inexpensive and skilled labor force, and free trade agreements with the EU, Russia, Turkey, and countries that are members of the Central European Free Trade Agreement.

Useful links

Delegation of the EU to the Republic of Serbia

Serbian Government

Tourist information

EU membership

Source: European Commission, The World Factbook

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