By Bojana Barlovac
Support in Serbia for membership of the European Union has dropped to 53 per cent, the lowest level since 2002, according to a poll conducted by the government’s Office for EU Integration. Back in 2003, support was on a high of 72 per cent.
However, the support for reform process, which forms part of the path to the EU, remains healthy with 85 per cent of Serbians favouring the changes, not because of the EU but for the sake of better living conditions.
The survey entitled “European Orientation of Serbian citizens – Trends” was carried out from June 16-23 on a sample of 1,017 respondents aged over 18.
Ever since Serbia ousted its late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, Serbs have supported major steps towards the EU, seeing membership as synonymous with a better life.
Fast-track moves towards membership have since then been one of the main aces that Serbia’s ruling centrist parties have fielded in election campaigns.
The pro-European coalition led by the Democratic Party leader, President Boris Tadic, won the 2008 elections mainly because the government had just signed a key Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Brussels.
Ironically, support is flagging as Serbia comes closer to obtaining the status of EU candidate. Belgrade submitted its EU candidacy application in December 2009 and completed the EU questionnare in January. Serbia expects to become a candidate by the end of the year.
Analysts blame the fall in support for EU membership, at least in part, on the government’s misuse of the EU idea for short-term promotional purposes in elections.
Nikola Jovanovic, editor of the publication “Challenges of European Integration”, says the authorities were wrong to conflate the European integration process in people’s minds with the receipt of huge grants from Brussels.
“Often they have talked about grants of billions of euros, so people imagined the EU was a giant cash dispenser from which Serbia would receive funds regardless of what it does,” Jovanovic said.
According to him, many Serbs got fed up with the idea of the EU after the lavish promises made in elections about new jobs and new money failed to translate into reality.