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9th Dec 2019

Only a third of Croats enthusiastic for EU membership

Citizens from the western Balkans have mixed feelings regarding their countries' EU future, with Kosovars and Albanians being particularly optimistic, but barely a third of Croats consider EU accession to be "a good thing," a new survey has shown.

While those living in Kosovo and Albania back their countries' EU integration almost unanimously (89% and 83% respectively), only 29 percent of Croats think Zagreb's EU membership would be beneficial, while 26 percent say it would be a bad thing, according to a Gallup survey presented in Brussels on Monday (17 November).

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  • Less than 30 percent of Croats think their country's EU membership would be beneficial. (Photo: turist.hr)

Croatia is ahead of the other western Balkan countries on the road to EU membership, with the European Commission confirming earlier this month that it could conclude EU accession talks next year. Albania, on the other hand, is much less advanced, while Kosovo only declared unilateral independence from Serbia nine months ago.

But in Croatia, respondents' national pride and attachment to the country was particularly high, Robert Manchin, founder and managing director of Gallup Europe, told reporters while introducing the survey's results.

Additionally, it is "normal" for EU enthusiasm to decrease in candidate countries the closer they get to EU membership, as it is then when "painful reforms" carried by their governments in order to make the accession happen are most felt by the citizens, Fabrice de Kerchove of the Belgian King Baudouin Foundation added.

The most wanted

Kosovar and Albanian respondents to the survey felt the most 'wanted' by the EU, both by its institutions (respectively 82% and 67%), and by its citizens (75% and 55%).

On the other end of the scale, 46 percent of Croats thought the European Commission wanted them to join the EU, while 42 percent felt welcome by European citizens. The figures were similar in Bosnia and Herzegovina (43% and 46%, respectively).

The strong pro-EU sentiment in Kosovo in particular is "a necessary naivety that people need to have in order to go through the difficult process [of EU integration]," Veton Surroi, editor of Kosovo's Koha Ditore newspaper told a conference organised by the European Policy Centre think-tank later on Monday.

The fact that they feel so wanted also "speaks well of the European Union's PR" and "derives from the lack of knowledge about the whole process," he added.

For his part, Giuliano Amato, former Italian prime minister and former chair of the International Commission on the Balkans, said the pro-EU feelings in the region could only be cultivated in the long run if the countries would be offered something concrete in return for their efforts to carry out the EU-required reforms.

Simply "keeping [them] busy in a bureaucratic way" becomes too long after a while and "a sense of urgency has to be restored somehow" to give the whole process a real meaning, Mr Amato argued.

One way to do this, according to him, would be further relaxation of the EU's visa policy towards the western Balkan countries.

Almost half of Serbs believe Karadzic is innocent

The Gallup survey also looked into the western Balkan citizens' general perception of their lives, economic situation, relations to the neighbouring countries, or their attitudes towards their respective governments.

It also asked respondents about their views on international institutions and organisations – such as the International Crime Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), with which most countries of the region have to fully cooperate in order to be let into the EU.

People in the different countries were divided on the issue, with a majority of Albanians (69%) and Kosovars (68%) saying the tribunal was helping reconciliation and strengthening peace in the region.

A majority of Macedonians (52%), Croats (53%) and especially Serbs (64%) disagreed however, and thought that not only did the ICTY not serve the interest of the region, but it was simply fuelling past conflicts.

Additionally, in all countries but Albania and Kosovo less than a third of the respondents thought the court's proceedings were impartial and their outcome was open.

The survey also showed that the arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the tribunal and who was arrested in Belgrade this summer, is far from being unanimously welcomed in Serbia.

Less than a quarter (23%) of Serbs thought Mr Karadzic was really guilty of the crimes he is charged with, while 47% said he was innocent.

However a majority of 53 percent said his arrest was good for Serbia's EU aspirations, while 45 percent thought it was positive for the country's future in general.

The survey was carried in September and October in all of the western Balkan, and some 1,000 people per country were asked their opinion in face-to-face interviews.

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