Balkan Opinions Reflect EU “Enlargement Fatigue”

resizerInternal problems within the EU and enlargement fatigue are having an effect on opinions in Balkan countries, a survey shows.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup Balkan Monitor, shows that EU membership remains a high priority for most Balkan residents. Yet, in most countries respondents feel that the EU welcome has cooled and are less optimistic about EU membership prospects.

“Since the Kosovo crisis in 1999/2000, the EU has been committed to supporting the development of the western Balkans region with the objective of integrating the regions’ countries into the Union,” the report notes.

To the authors: “It seems as if the EU’s love for its neighbours in south-east Europe has cooled off. Battered by institutional crises and enlargement fatigue, the future of the western Balkans has slipped down the EU’s agenda and references to a quick integration of the region have become somewhat scarce.”

According to the Gallup Balkan Monitor, this situation had an impact on survey responses. While support for EU membership “remains at a high level” it has started to decrease, when compared to previous studies.

The survey results offer a complex picture, reflecting a range of perceptions about the EU.

The fact that different ethnic groups in some western Balkan countries – including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia – show different and even conflicting views on the EU, makes it more difficult for both European and national policymakers to create an all-encompassing policy, the report said.

Opinions recorded in the survey range from strong support for the EU in Albania and amongst ethnic Albanian resients of Kosovo, to the first signs of discontent with the bloc in Croatia and amongst Serb residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

EU membership – a good thing?

With the exception of Croatia, respondents across the region were still convinced that EU-membership brings advantages. Yet, in all countries, with the exception of Kosovo, there was a decrease in positive responses on this question.

In Croatia, 29 per cent of respondents said EU membership was good, 26 per cent believed it was a bad thing and 38 per cent were undecided. In Kosovo, 89 per cent of respondents believed EU membership was a positive.

The survey also analysed Balkan residents’ perceptions of the extent to which they would be welcome in the EU, “given EU institutions’ hesitant stance towards the Balkans over the past few years”.

Bosnian and Croatian residents seemed to feel alienated by EU hesitancy, with less than half of respondents saying the European Commission wanted their country in the EU.

Similarly, when questioned on their level of identification, Albanians in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia came on the top, with 72, 50 and 49 per cent of respondents identifying strongly with Europe.

Feeling the least identificaiton with the EU were Serbs in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) with 10, 15, 23 and 21 per cent respectively.

Croatian residents were the most optimistic with regard to prospective EU accession dates, with a majority expecting entry into the bloc in 2013. Residents of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia – which are next in line for EU negotiations – expected their countries to join the EU in 2015, while people in Albania and Kosovo were less optimistic, expecting to become citizens of EU states in 2018.

Respondents in Bosnia and Herzegovina were the most pessimistic, not expecting their country to enter the Union until 2020. Roughly one in six (16 percent) in Bosnia feared that their country would never join the EU – by far the highest percentage in the region.

Communication deficit

The Gallup Balkan Monitor survey showed there is a pressing need for more effective communication about the EU across the western Balkans. With the exception of Croatia and Macedonia, a majority in all countries felt insufficiently informed about the EU. The number of those feeling ill-informed ranged from 44 per cent in Croatia to 60 per cent in Montenegro.

In all western Balkan countries, a majority of respondents were convinced that the media provides sufficient information about the EU and on the path to eventual accession.

Praise for the media’s role was especially high in Kosovo, where almost 8 in 10 respondents were appreciative. The media’s role was seen less positively in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia, where between 30 to 40 per cent of interviewees felt that the media’s reportage on EU affairs was inadequate

In addition to the general trends related to eventual EU membership, the Gallup Balkan Monitor also analysed some country-specific issues.

Bosnia divided over EU, OHR

The survey showed that Bosnia and Herzegovina is deeply divided over the international community’s involvement in its internal affairs. This issue seemed to be linked not only to the EU’s attitude towards the country, but also to the ongoing debate on the role of its Office of the High Representative, OHR, and EU Special Representative, EUSR.

Among all Balkan countries, Bosnia registered the largest drop in support for the EU. While, in 2006, two-thirds of the population considered EU membership to be positive, this number had decreased to 48 per cent two years later. A third of respondents were undecided about the benefits of EU membership in 2008 – twice as many as in 2006.

The ethnic and political diversity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is strongly reflected in the population’s attitude towards the EU. While 65 per cent of Bosniak respondents and 50 per cent of Bosnian Croats were convinced that EU accession would be a good thing, only 34 per cent of Bosnian Serbs were of the same opinion.

Asked whether they considered the OHR necessary for the country to function, 60 per cent of people in the Bosniak-Croat Federation agreed, while only 16 per cent in Republika Srpska held that view.

The difference was smaller with regard to the potential transition of authority from the OHR to EUSR, which may be decided by the end of 2009. In both entities, a majority did not expect that the transition to the EUSR would have a significant impact. In the Federation 31 per cent of respondents expected a change for the better, with only nine per cent of respondents in Republika Srpska sharing this opinion.

Macedonia divided over the name issue

The most striking finding of the Gallup Balkan Monitor survey for Macedonia is the difference in attitudes towards the EU between its ethnic groups. The opinions of ethnic Macedonian towards the EU differ significantly from those of the country’s largest minority, ethnic Albanians.

As with ethnic Albanians interviewed in Albania and Kosovo, Macedonian Albanians are very supportive of the EU. While, in all, 57 per cent of Macedonian nationals approved of their country joining the EU, this support rose to 84 per cent amongst Macedonian Albanian respondents.

Joining NATO and the EU are such high priorities for Macedonian Albanians that 67 per cent would even give up the country’s name, in the ongoing dispute with Greece, in order to attain that goal. Ethnic Macedonians are strongly opposed, with 95 percent against the name change proposition in this context.

Of all the countries surveyed, Macedonia is the one that fears war the most. Almost three in ten respondents said that there will certainly, or probably be an armed conflict in the region within the next five years.

A strong majority of Macedonian residents (84 per cent) were convinced that EU accession is needed for peace and development in the region – the highest figure for the western Balkans.

Serbia critical of ICTY

The report’s authors hold that, given the importance to Serbia’s eventual EU accession of the country’s need to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), respondents’ opinions on the Hague Tribunal can shed light on their attitudes towards the EU.

Only a few Serbian respondents were supportive of the ICTY’s proceedings. A mere 19 per cent thought that the Tribunal “helps the reconciliation and strengthens peace”. When asked whether the trials were fair, 70 per cent supported the proposition that “the proceedings are simply ceremonial and the verdicts are known before the process is complete”.
Despite this, around 60 per cent of Serbian residents were convinced of the benefits of accession to the Union, and a slightly lower percentage (55 per cent) felt the European Commission supported this process.

The survey was conducted in cooperation with the European Fund for the Balkans.

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