Most Serbs support EU membership, cite job opportunities, in new poll

A majority of Serbs now support EU membership, according to a new poll. [Grace Blue/Flickr]

Just over a half of Serbia’s people support the country’s bid to join the EU, citing better jobs and free movement that membership would provide, according to a new survey.

Some 52% of the population would vote in favour of accession if a referendum were held tomorrow, compared to 24% against, according to the opinion poll conducted by Serbia’s ministry of European integration.

Even though the figure remains relatively low, support to EU membership has followed a slight upward trend, the ministry said in a press release on 23 January.

In the previous poll, conducted in July 2017, 49% of Serbian citizens supported the country’s EU membership, while 27% were against it.

Serbia, along with Montenegro, whose accession talks are at a much more advanced stage, is a frontrunner of EU integration in the Western Balkans, which has been one the priorities of Bulgaria’s January-June EU presidency.

Juncker throws his weight behind Bulgaria's Western Balkan plan

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday (12 January) he would personally talk to each of the six Western Balkan leaders to hear what they expect from the plans by Bulgaria’s EU presidency to revive their long-stalled EU membership prospects.

Support for Serbian EU accession peaked in late 2009, when 73% backed membership. It hit a low of 41%, at the end of 2012 and 2015.

The prospect of better job opportunities and free movement within the EU were the main reasons cited for supporting EU membership.

20% said that EU membership brings greater employment possibilities, 15% of them think that membership means “the way to a better future for the youth,” while the same percentage sees membership as a possibility for freer movement within the EU.  Germany was the most popular destination to Serbs, with 29% saying it was the EU country they most wished to live in.

55% of those polled knew that Serbia had opened several negotiating chapters, compared to the 48% in the July 2017 poll.

Tackling corruption, health care and judicial reforms were cited as the most important reforms that would improve everyday life

Meanwhile, 24% each see the EU and Russia as Serbia’s biggest donors, despite the fact that Russia is not on the list of major donors, viewed by amounts. According to official data, from 2000 to the end of 2016, the EU and its member states gave Serbia €4.3 billion in grants.

As regards Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008 – which Serbia still refuses to recognize – the majority of those polled support the Serbian government’s determination to continue the dialogue with their counterparts in Pristina and broker a compromise.

Under EU pressure in 2013, Belgrade and Pristina agreed to take part in EU-sponsored ‘dialogue’ on normalising relations, a key condition for both to progress towards membership of the bloc. It remains unclear if Serbia will be required to formally recognise Kosovo before joining the bloc.

However, despite supporting their country’s attempts to join the EU, Serbs are far from optimistic about its future. 31% agreed that the EU was likely to face bigger problems in the future and was more likely to disappear than get stronger, while 29% stated that the EU would overcome its problems but was likely to make it harder for new members to join.

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