The views on the benefits of joining the EU vary across the Balkan countries. According to a poll, 40 percent of Serbians believe the country will benefit from EU accession, with a similarly low percentage in Montenegro (49%) while as many as 84% of Kosovans and 80% of Albanians want to join the union.
According to the Gallup poll, the richer countries in the region and those that are most advanced on the accession path have seen a sharp decline in enthusiasm for entry to the EU.
On the contrary, in those with the lowest GDP per capita, for whom accession is a distant prospect, citizens were most keen to join.
Gallup analysts noted that “residents in two of the poorest areas in the region with sky-rocketing unemployment rates; namely Albania and Kosovo, see that membership in the EU maybe a means to improve their situation and living standards and stimulate job growth.”
The poll’s report also says that Albania and Kosovo’s relative isolation in a principally ethnic Slavic region, leading them to look to the wider international community for support.
The two countries have the lowest GDP per capita in the region, at just $4,543 and $3,796 respectively in 2015. Serbia ($5,235) and Montenegro ($5,826) are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Within the Western Balkans, those who thought EU accession would benefit their country were still in the majority across the board; even in Serbia there was a narrow edge above those who thought accession would harm the country, 34%, while a further 17% were undecided.
According to sources, an earlier poll carried out in 2016 by the Belgrade-based Institute for European Affairs found that 52% of Serbian citizens believed Serbia should continue its EU integration even after the UK’s departure from the union.
The lengthy path towards accession has left some in the region questioning whether they will ever be able to join, as EU priorities have shifted away from enlargement.
The mixed picture in Serbia is most likely related to historical grievances, specifically those related to Kosovo’s independence, which is recognized by all but five EU member states.
“Part of this skepticism appears to be driven by historical grievances associated with the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. The dominant expectation among EU countries that Serbia recognize Kosovo’s independence before joining the bloc likely exacerbates this resentment,” according to the report.
Furthermore, Gallup found that 54% of Serbs approved of Russia’s leadership over the past two years (compared to just 28% who approved of the EU’s leadership), the highest proportion across the region.
The Balkan countries’ governments are all on the path of EU accession, with their situation varying; while Montenegro has had already numerous negotiation chapters open, Kosovo has not yet been able to apply.