Serbia profile

President: Tomislav Nikolic

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic Mr Nikolic's Progressive Party has evolved from its nationalist roots to become more pro-EU

Serb nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic won the presidential election of 2012 after several previous attempts. He beat the liberal Democratic Party incumbent Boris Tadic in the second round of voting in May, confounding expectations.

Mr Nikolic founded the Progressive Party in 2008 in order to bring his nationalist supporters closer to the centre-ground of Serbian politics, as the Radical Party, to which he had previously belonged, was too closely associated with the Milosevic era of war crimes and xenophobia.

The Progressive Party embraced plans to join the European Union and distanced itself from the pro-Russian, anti-Nato stance of the Radicals.

It campaigned against unemployment, inflation and corruption to become the largest party at parliamentary elections in May 2012, building on this to achieve Mr Nikolic's win in a run-off against Boris Tadic a few weeks later.

Mr Nikolic reiterated his commitment to European integration, but relations with the European Union seemed unlikely to be as smooth as under the pro-Western Mr Tadic. The disputed status of Kosovo was seen as the most likely sticking-point, but a landmark agreement on normalising ties between Serbia and its former province signed in April 2013 removed one of the major obstacles standing in the way of Serbia's progress towards EU membership.

A week after formal EU accession talks began in January 2014, Mr Nikolic dissolved parliament and called a snap parliamentary election on 16 March, after the Progressive Party said it needed a new mandate to push through the tough economic reforms required by the EU as a condition of membership.

Born in 1952, Mr Nikolic trained as a building engineer before going into politics as a Radical. He rose to be deputy prime minister of Serbia and Yugoslavia under the nationalist rule of Slobodan Milosevic, and later served as Radical leader Vojislav Seselj's stand-in while the latter faced war-crimes charges in the Hague.

He ran as Radical presidential candidate in the last Yugoslav election in 2000, and then in the Serbian presidential elections of 2003, 2004 and 2008, coming a close second in the last two Serbian polls.

He broke with Mr Seselj after deciding that European integration and economic issues should prevail over nationalist concerns, and went on to form the Progressive Party in 2008, reducing the Radicals to a far-right rump.

Outgoing Prime minister: Ivica Dacic

Outgoing Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic Mr Dacic's Socialist Party trailed well behind its coalition partner, the Progressive Party, in the 2014 parliamentary election

Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic described the result of the March 2014 parliamentary election, in which the Progressive Party of Aleksandar Vucic won a landslide victory, as a "political tsunami" that had wiped the opposition off Serbia's political map.

Mr Vucic is now widely expected to succeed Mr Dacic as prime minister.

Mr Dacic's Socialist Party formed a coalition government with the nationalist Progressive Party in July 2012, ending an unlikely cohabitation with the pro-European-Union Democratic Party.

A Kosovo-born protege of the late Slobodan Milosevic, on becoming leader of the Socialist Party Mr Dacic abandoned the more extreme nationalist policies pursued by his predecessor and after the 2012 election declared that he would continue the pro-EU stance of the previous government.

However, he faced a difficult task in balancing his commitment to joining the EU with his supporters' reluctance to brook any compromise on the status of Kosovo.

A significant step forward regarding the Kosovo issue was made in April 2013, when Mr Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci signed an EU-brokered deal on normalising ties between Belgrade and Pristina. Following the Serbian parliament's approval of this deal, the European Commission gave the green light for the opening of Serbia's EU membership talks.

Following the formal opening of EU accession talks in January 2014, the Progressive Party - keen to capitalise on its growing popularity as a result of Serbia's progress towards EU membership - lobbied for early general elections to be held in March.

The main challenge facing Mr Dacic's government was to tackle an endemic culture of crime and corruption as it sought to smooth the country's path towards EU membership, and the dire state of the Serbian economy will also be the top priority for its successor.

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