By Bojana Milovanovic
Support for Serbia’s accession into the EU is at the lowest point since 2002, according to a recent poll conducted by the government’s European Integration Office (EIO) in December.
In 2011, EU accession support fell 6% to 51%, the poll showed, while 28% of Serbs are against membership and 18% said they would abstain from a vote.
EIO head Milica Delevic highlighted the fact that the poll was conducted after the European Council’s decided not to grant Serbia candidate status in early December.
“The poll shows the rational-emotional ratio among citizens. It illustrates the way in which the EU is talked about in the public debate and reveals a tendency of thinking in terms of ‘sour grapes’. If we did not get something, then it was not important anyway,” Delevic said.
While EU accession support peaked in December 2003, it has been declining since 2010, according to the EIO polls.
“The EU does not want us at this moment and that is quite clear. We need an organized society, the fights corruption as well as laws that are implemented and protect the citizens. We need to introduce all that into the system for our own sake, so that it can be better for us, rather than because someone is forcing us to do so,” Belgrade computer programmer Milovan Petrovic, 31, told SETimes.
Officials, opposition representatives and NGOs say the reasons for the decline range from the Kosovo issue to the difficult economic situation in the EU, including public doubts about the Union’s survival.
“Whenever Kosovo and its connection to further progress in [Serbia’s] European integration is mentioned, it provokes negative reactions among Serbian citizens,” European Movement in Serbia official Maja Bobic told SETimes.
The Eurozone crisis has increased citizens’ doubts whether the European project will survive, Bobic argued, but “not everything is so bleak, since a growing number of citizens are supporting the reforms and believe they need to be implemented regardless of EU membership.”
“The citizens had great expectations as the government previously announced candidate status as a sure thing,” Bobic added.
“The dissatisfaction is understandable, since the current government has failed to meet the criteria for candidate status Citizens are tired and disappointed after the 12-year rule of President Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party and its failure to keep promises,” opposition Serbian Progressive Party official Marko Djuric said.
Djuric explained the importance of European integration was not properly explained to the population and the authorities have been irresponsible in the entire accession process.
The EIO poll confirms that respondents view Serbia’s EU accession as largely being obstructed by the constant conditioning and blackmail as well as the Serbian leadership’s incompetence.
Still, for 41% of respondents said they believe that EU accession means a better life — particularly for the youth — as well as new jobs. Additional 35% identify membership with the right to travel within the EU.
A novelty is the increasing number of those who view EU accession in terms of protecting individual citizens’ rights — from 16% last June to 22% in December.
Among those opposing Serbia’s EU accession, 23% state the main reason they would vote against is their belief the EU will bring Serbia nothing good as well as that the government would benefit more than they would, according to the poll.
The poll also showed that a decreasing number of citizens are willing to change working and life habits for EU accession because they view the latter as shutting itself in due to growing economic problems.