By Matt Robinson and Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's incoming prime minister promised on Thursday to speed up its bid to join the European Union with the West scrutinizing the return to power of a political alliance that once led a government at war with NATO.
The revival of the coalition of nationalists and socialists has raised concern in the West that the ex-Yugoslav republic might veer from the pro-EU path set by reformers who ousted Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
In an address to parliament, Socialist leader Ivica Dacic, a close aide to Milosevic through a decade of war and isolation in the 1990s, said he had had enough of the past.
In words aimed at Western ears, he said Serbia was ready to cooperate in resolving relations with Kosovo, the country's former southern province that declared independence in 2008. But it would never recognize the territory as sovereign, he said.
"I want to work for the future of the country and the people; I don't want to deal with divisions between those of now and those of the nineties," Dacic said, presenting the program of his government to parliament.
"This will be a government of the future, not a government turned to the past," he said. "A key goal of this government will be the acceleration of European integration and maximum effort to secure a date for the start of accession talks."
Serbia became an official candidate for membership of the 27-nation bloc in March, but talks are conditioned on Belgrade improving relations with Kosovo, including loosening its grip on a Serb-populated enclave in the north.
Lawmakers will vote on the new government late on Thursday.
The alliance brings together Dacic's Socialist Party and the Serbian Progressives of nationalist President Tomislav Nikolic, a party that emerged from the ultranationalist Radical Party that was in power with Milosevic in 1999.
That was the year NATO bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency war.
A popular uprising ousted Milosevic the following year, but Dacic led the Socialists back to power with the reformist Democratic Party in 2008.
By throwing his lot in with the nationalists after an inconclusive May election, Dacic has helped confine the Democrats to the opposition benches for the first time in 12 years.
The new coalition includes the technocrat United Regions party, whose leader Mladjan Dinkic becomes finance minister.
He inherits an economy sliding into recession, an unemployment rate of 25.5 percent and a shrinking, ageing population that scrapes by on an average net monthly wage of 340 euros ($420).
Pledging greater "social justice", Dacic said workers and pensioners would not suffer from state belt-tightening to reduce a rising debt of 55 percent of GDP.
The International Monetary Fund froze a 1 billion euro ($1.23 billion) loan deal with Serbia in February over the debt and broken spending promises.
Without IMF backing or a new government for almost three months, the dinar has plummeted to record lows against the euro. Dacic said his government would resume talks with the lender but that the question of growth or savings was a false dilemma.
"Our problem is not debt, but low production," he said. "Only by increasing production can we reduce the debt."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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