Serbian confidence in accession process declining

To Europe or not to Europe? Serbia, 2008. [Grace Blue/Flickr]

Support for EU accession among Serbians is falling, and it may be a result of a loss of confidence in the chances of being admitted, a recent poll by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) shows. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

The report comes following the concerns raised by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini about stability and peace in the Balkans, and a February meeting on Serbia’s accession progress by the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which reported mixed results.

The share of Serbians supporting EU integration (43%) is still higher than those opposing it (35%). While no dramatic fall was registered in the past five years, when support mostly oscillated between 40% and 50%, the level is much lower than in 2009 when it was 67%. An official government poll in December 2016 put support at 47%, after a fall in June to 41%, which is unusually low for Serbia.

While it is well known that support for the EU tends to decrease with the progress of the accession process, which is long and demanding, the poll indicates that Serbian citizens might, in fact, be losing faith in the overall process.

Serbia seeks more EU accession talks despite Croatia opposition

Serbia’s chief negotiator on Tuesday (10 May) called on the European Union to continue accession talks in June as planned, criticising the opposition from Balkans neighbour Croatia.

As stated by the BCSP director Sonja Stojanović Gajić on 8 March, 41% think that Serbia will never become an EU member, while additional 12% don’t expect membership in the next 10 years.

Gajić pointed out that Serbians are also not satisfied with the pace of the integration, with only 4% thinking that the process is quick, while 18% believe that it is at a standstill and 45% that it is slow.

Serbia was accorded candidate status for EU membership in March 2012, and negotiations were opened in January 2014. 8 out of the 34 chapters have been opened so far. In Serbia, delays to accession process are seen as purely political, especially when it is related to the Kosovo issue or the bilateral requests of EU members.

Gajić drew attention to the high polarisation of Serbian society, with opinions being related to party affiliation, but also education, age, and gender.

Those who voted for the ruling coalition led by the Serbian Progressive Party SNS are highly divided, with half of its supporters being in favour of the EU, while the opposition Democratic Party and Liberal Democratic Party have mostly pro-European voters, and the extreme right bloc, consisting of Dveri, the Serbian Radical Party and Democratic Party of Serbia being mostly anti-European.

Opening of chapters a historic step for Serbia

On 14 December, nearly two years after the launch of accession negotiations with the EU, Serbia opened the first two chapters, on financial control, and the normalization of relations with Kosovo. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

The share of EU enthusiasts is highest in the 30-39 age range, as well as those over 70, while those polled under 30 are predominantly anti-European, with 39.5% against the EU and 36.6% in favour

The EU’s stance towards Kosovo appears to have had a great deal of influence on support for EU integration among Serbians.

The poll shows that a request for Serbia to recognise Kosovo’s independence, unilaterally declared in 2008, would lead to an increase of those opposed to EU membership to 69%.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem that the declining enthusiasm for the EU has much to do with Serbia’s close ties with Russia.

While Russia is highly valued by the Serbian public, almost half of those polled think that the current level of cooperation is satisfactory (48%). 23% thinks that some sort of political alliance is needed. 15% don’t have an opinion, and 14% are not enthusiastic about ties with Russia.

It should be also noted that, according to Serbian public opinion, the EU is still mostly associated with positives, including prosperity, and peace.

The poll was conducted between 26 December last year and 14 January, with 1,403 citizens.