In Europe we trust? Public opinion in the Balkans

17 November 2009

Hedvig Morvai-Horvat, Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans, said despite huge developments in the Balkans, people there are very critical. All these countries are engaged in EU integration, so need to be re-energised about the reform process, although visa liberalisation for a number of countries has helped to give people a sense of moving forward.

Gallup Europe CEO Robert Manchin said continuing differences between the Balkan nations, and their different places on the path towards accession, impact directly on future Balkan enlargement plans.

The report quotes the Internet site "Wikipedia" as describing a “wicked problem” as a problem that “is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise, so Europe is dealing with a “wicked problem” in the Balkans.

Giuliano Amato, former Chairman of the International Commission on the Balkans, picked up on the report's observation that the Balkans region “is not ready to smile”, which he felt was because people could no longer see a clear future in their own countries. As well as telling people in the Balkans that their future lies in the EU, they need to see significant signs of development.

The Balkans must think “regionally” to ensure the vitality of their economies and to stem the movement against regional cooperation, and the sense of losing momentum in the EU accession process.

Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, said people in the Balkans were increasingly distrustful of political “elites”. In Serbia the support for EU membership was declining, so rapid integration into the EU would help prevent the Western Balkans imploding. When things go wrong, people turn to the EU and the Church for support, but people are increasingly pessimistic about what the EU can deliver. The EU seems to be using visa liberalisation to revitalise “a sense of belonging to the European Union”, even though people in the EU lack enthusiasm for further enlargement.

Serbian journalist Zeljko Pantelic said the EU “is a myth in Serbia and in other Western Balkan countries” which has helped to stabilise the Balkans, as ordinary people see the EU as a synonym for the good life, a well-paid job, welfare and good roads. Half Serbia’s population believe the country will enter the EU by 2010 but it is more likely to be 2018. Unfortunately in Serbia there are discussions about EU enlargement fatigue, when should be more discussions about meeting the conditions to join the EU.

Rosa Balfour, EPC Senior Policy Analyst, said visa liberalisation had worked well and was a “win-win” situation. However, the longer the accession process went on the less the leverage there was, so a shorter accession process might be better.