The start of negotiations with the EU has had a positive impact on Serbian citizens' opinions.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 09/08/13
Serbian citizens' support for EU integration increased 9 percent since December. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
Serbian citizens' support for EU integration increased by 9 percent since December while opposition declined by 7 percent, according to the latest poll conducted by the Serbian government's European Integration Office.
Officials in the integration office and political analysts say public opinion of the EU path improved with the start of accession negotiations following the EU-brokered Brussels agreement, which in April established a framework for normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
The poll -- the latest in a series of surveys conducted by the integration office -- was taken during the first week of July and was released on August 5th. It found that 50 percent of the 1,050 adults surveyed would support a referendum on Serbia's EU membership, up from 41 percent in December. Opposition totalled 24 percent, while 19 percent said they would not vote and 8 percent were undecided.
Ivana Djuric, the integration office's assistant director for communication and training, told SETimes the poll results reflect current circumstances. The December poll was conducted shortly after The Hague acquitted former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and threw out the convictions of Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac on charges of war crimes against Serbs. It also coincided with the establishment of administrative lines with Kosovo.
"These increased citizens' feelings of unfair treatment and the conditioning of EU policy toward Serbia," Djuric said. "But in June this year, when the accession negotiation was approved, the support increased. Since 2009, and even earlier, the support increases when some positive developments about the EU are happening."
"The government's work also contributes to the support rising since it has implemented reforms that could contribute to citizens' daily lives, like the fight against corruption, as well as justice and health systems reform that are seen as the three most important areas, and some 68 percent of citizens support them no matter whether they are important for EU accession. When the government and the [integration office] work on these segments, it influences citizens' support for the EU and they see the EU as something that is not so far, somewhere in Brussels, but here close to them and affecting their lives," Djuric said.
Aleksandra Joksimovic, president of the Centre for Foreign Policy in Belgrade, said the opening of the EU negotiation process has had a positive influence on citizens' perception of the EU.
"Without any doubt, this has been encouraging citizens that there is a chance for Serbia to join the EU in some real future, that an EU future is achievable, but also that Serbia is a desirable member and that the EU is willing to make positive steps for the integration of Serbia. The fact that enlargement of the European Union is not stopped is encouraging, and Croatia's accession and Serbia's negotiation start are proving that," Joksimovic told SETimes.
Joksimovic added that Serbia's enthusiasm for the EU has never disappeared, but was concealed because the country has faced obstacles that others didn't have, including the Hague tribunal and Kosovo issues.
"By removing significant parts of these obstacles, the EU enthusiasm is here again. We have fulfilled some important requirements but the Kosovo issue will be present still and the implementation of agreements awaits us. We are starting one serious process of negotiations and significant reforms that should make us a more serious and democratic society," Joksimovic said.
Joksimovic said Serbian citizens see EU membership as an opportunity for better economic conditions and better lives.
Nikola Lakic, 26, a political science student from Zrenjanin in Vojvodina, credited Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic with playing an important role in the EU path. Lakic said Vucic's optimism for reforms in the context of EU integration has restored citizens' faith in the process.
"The determination of the EU to accept Serbia as a future member of the 'club' without new demands should be recognized, since it returned citizens' assurance that EU integration for Serbia is not some sort of 'tower in the sand,'" Lakic told SETimes.
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