By Bojana Milovanovic
In 2003, 72% of the population supported the country’s accession into the EU. This number fell to 57% in early 2011.
“[Membership in] the EU seems far too unrealistic for Serbia … I’m interested in how I live and what I can afford, and whether Serbia will be in the EU or not makes no difference to me,” 32-year-old Serbian economist Dejan Tripkovic told SETimes.
Public opinion today shows a stark contrast from a few years ago. The current ruling coalition –headed by President Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party — won the previous election and formed a coalition based on the promise to bring Serbia into the EU.
Waning support for European integration has brought many political questions to the forefront of public debate. With elections scheduled for the first half of 2012, how will public opinion on EU accession lead to changes in Serbia’s political sphere?
Ruling coalition representatives say they do not fear the upcoming election. According to them, diminished support for European integration is normal and has occurred in all current EU member states during the association process.
Democratic Party official Nada Kolundzija commented: “We are not giving up on our European integration policy, regardless of the fact the citizens are starting to run out of enthusiasm. We believe membership in the European Union is of state, national and economic interest and is good for all Serbian citizens.”
Kolundzija said the current government may have made a mistake by not sufficiently explaining the benefits of membership.
“In the coming period, we will work on better presenting that link to citizens. It has nothing to do with the election campaign, rather with our desire to mobilise all of our capacities in order to achieve our strategic goal of EU membership as soon as possible,” she added.
Members of the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) are seen as the biggest eurosceptics. They choose to go by a different name though: “eurorealists”. The party feels that citizens are just now beginning to see the true face of the EU.
According to DSS spokesman Petar Petkovic, “Current authorities have been deceiving citizens for three years with their ‘Europe has no alternative’ policy. Citizens now have three years of experience with that kind of policy and will surely punish them in the upcoming election.”
He says that the government has tricked citizens into believing that a quick EU accession will lead to a better life.
“Since that has not happened, and the state is in a serious crisis, citizens are beginning to see the devastating effects of the current government’s policy,” Petkovic adds.
He criticises the government for its “servile” attitude towards the EU, which, as he put it, wants to strip Serbia of a portion of its territory. “Someone who demands that we establish neighbourly relations with Kosovo, an integral part of our state, cannot be our partner,” Petkovic says.
Analyst Dejan Vuk Stankovic believes that public enthusiasm for European integration has withered due to the current government’s failure to deliver concrete results, despite its excessive talk of EU membership.
“The government had promised to achieve candidacy and begin membership talks at the beginning of its term, not the end, which is the case now,” Stankovic explains.
He thinks that citizens will not vote based on rhetoric in the next election, but results.