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Support for joining EU drops sharply in Serbia

Belgrade claims its citizens approve of reforms that Brussels demands, despite Eurosceptic shift

The latest official survey in Serbia has shown support for joining the European Union dropping drastically, even before the bloc announced its “proposal” for the breakaway province of Kosovo. The government in Belgrade chose to highlight the public’s apparent approval of changes “associated with possible membership” instead.

“Citizens’ support for European reforms remains at a high level,” the Ministry for European Integrations headlined their report on the survey, published late on Thursday. According to the MEI, 65% of respondents believed the improvements demanded by Brussels were good in their own right.

Offered a hypothetical referendum on joining the EU, only 43% said they would vote in favor, 32% were against, 13% would abstain and 12% said they didn’t know. Asked what the EU meant to them, 15% said the ability to travel freely, 14% said more employment opportunities and 13% said “better future for young people.” Meanwhile, 13% saw the bloc as a risk of losing cultural identity.

The poll was conducted in mid-December 2022. A Bloomberg report noted that the same survey in 2021 showed 54% support for joining the EU, which implies a drop of 11 percentage points since then. 

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Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic at a press conference in Ankara, January 26, 2023.
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An independent poll conducted in October, using the same methodology, showed support for the EU at just 34.7%, with 48.8% opposed and 16.5% undecided. Moreover, if the condition of joining the EU was recognizing the breakaway province of Kosovo as independent – as Brussels has repeatedly signaled it would be – almost 80% of respondents were opposed.

“Since we started polling, we’ve never had this kind of drop and this ratio,” pollster Djordje Vukadinovic said at the time, noting the 14-point spread.

According to the government survey, Serbian citizens “expressed their willingness to change their current lifestyle habits, if it is for the purpose of joining the EU,” with as many as 41% saying they would sort their recycling, or save energy and water. Asked if the reforms the EU demanded should be carried out nonetheless, “for the benefit of citizens and for the purpose of creating a better and more regulated Serbia,” two thirds of those polled said yes.

Both polls were conducted before the so-called Franco-German proposal for Kosovo was leaked to the media. President Aleksandar Vucic has confirmed that the EU is demanding that Belgrade de facto recognize Kosovo or face the loss of visa-free travel and investments, which he said would amount to sanctions.

January 27, 2023 at 10:34PM
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