Global Policy Forum

Rising Anti-EU Sentiment

Economic hardship, corruption and political stalemates within the Balkan states are fostering a distinct anti- European Union sentiment. Although nations such as Croatia are close to achieving membership, support for the EU has fallen below 50% in many Balkan states as salaries have decreased and currencies are losing value. This article highlights how citizens are calling for domestic political stability and economic security before further employment and financial compromises are made by governments to attain EU membership.

By Vesna Peric Zimonjic

Terraviva Europe

February 23, 2011

Anti-European Union (EU) sentiment is growing across the Balkan countries that have proclaimed membership in the European family of nations as their highest political goal during the past decade. It is caused by prolonged economic hardships that still bite hard, failure of authorities to fight widespread corruption and political deadlock in creating stable governments.

"The promise of joining the EU is no longer attractive," Serbian economic analyst Misa Brkic told IPS. Recent surveys show support for EU membership in Serbia has fallen below 60 percent for the first time since 2000.

"People are really nervous and the government is indifferent," Brkic says. "People want jobs, social security and improvement in all areas, and they don't see it in near future; they just see incapable governments."

On Feb. 12, Serbia saw the biggest political demonstration since the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. More than 55,000 people, led by the opposition Serbian Progressive Party, gathered calling for social change. Speakers insisted on rise of employment, better social care for poor, and an end to the corruption which has, in their words, "porously infected all segments of society and power".

Serbia, a nation of 7.4 million, has lost some 400,000 jobs since the beginning of global downturn in 2008. Total unemployment now stands at 750,000.

In real terms, average salaries for the employed have dropped from almost 500 dollars to 300 since the local currency has been losing its value. In February, thousands of teachers, policemen and workers from bankrupt firms protested in Belgrade over many days, demanding higher salaries and social aid.

The situation is almost similar in neighbouring Croatia, a nation of 4.4 million. Croatia is closest to the EU membership - expecting membership by the end of 2012. A recent poll there shows that support for the EU has dropped to 49.4 percent - the lowest ever. Only 25 percent saw membership as a positive economic step.

"The government is trying to convince people that the EU membership will mean solution of all problems immediately," Croatian economic analyst Zarko Modric told IPS. "It doesn't work any more in real life, as 350,000 are unemployed and 70,000 do work but haven't been paid for months. When government says 'painful reforms are still due', people translate it immediately [as] 'more and more job losses' in the already hard times".

In order to completely finish its membership process, Croatia has, besides the vague 'painful reforms', to make a very painful real move - solve the problem of five shipyards that the EU demands to be privatised or closed. They employ more than 15,000 people who support another 20,000 family members. They also provide jobs for another 10,000 people who work in factories supplying the shipyards. So far, privatisation has failed and only state subsidies keep them afloat.

Croatia is also hit hard with a corruption scandal, as its former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was arrested in Austria and charged with a multimillion-dollar fraud involving Austrian and Croatian banks. Two former vice prime ministers are also awaiting trial for corruption charges.

The long-term political plan of Bosnia-Herzegovina to join the EU has to be shelved for a while as well. The country, made up of Republic of Srpska - a Serb entity - and the Muslim-Croat Federation, has not been able to constitute the central government since October elections. Political stalemate is the result of rivalries between the two entities and no good will on the Serbian side to recognise Sarajevo as the central authority.

Without a government that represents the country as a whole before the international community, there is no way to come any closer to EU negotiations.

Albania is also in crisis, as the opposition has refused to recognise the results of June 2009 parliamentary elections. Tensions boiled over last month there when clashes between security forces and anti-government protestors left four people dead in the capital Tirana. Long proclaimed EU membership has been put on hold for now.

In Kosovo, Hashim Thaci was barely able to form a coalition government this month, after December elections. Although he remains the most prominent politician, his reputation is in question following allegations linking him to organised crime and organ trafficking in a report of European Parliament Member Dick Marty.

Although Kosovo has no EU aspirations for now, support there for EU membership is the highest in the region, standing at 87 percent.


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