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IRI poll: Most Western Balkan countries support EU membership, but many citizens are sceptical of EU’s seriousness

EU-Western Balkans Summit in Brussels, December 2023; Photo: European Union

WASHINGTON – Majority of citizens in the Western Balkans would vote for EU membership in a referendum. However, in multiple countries significant percentages of citizens doubt that EU is serious in offering membership to the region, shows the newest public opinion poll carried out by the International Republican Institute (IRI). Serbian public opinion remains more pronouncedly anti-Western than in the rest of the region.

The polls, published this week by IRI, were carried out between February and March 2024 through face-to-face interviews.

In North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, 68% of the population would vote for EU accession in a referendum, 79% would do so in Montenegro, while the percentages in Kosovo and Albania are 89% and 92% of the population, respectively. Serbia is an exception since only a plurality of 40% of the population would support joining the EU, while 34% would vote against.

However, the question regarding the attitude of citizens on the reality of the EU membership perspective provides a different picture. In Serbia, 54% of citizens and believe that the EU is not serious in its intention to offer membership in the European Union, while in North Macedonia that percentage is 47%, compared to 34% of people who believe that the EU is serious about enlargement.

The public in Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided (44% believe that the EU is serious compared to 42% who believe it is not), while in Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo majorities of population – between 54% and 62% – believe that the EU is serious about offering membership to the Western Balkan countries.

More broadly, a question about the foreign policy course of the countries reveals that the majority of citizens, except Serbia, favour the pro-Western foreign policy of their countries. In North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, a plurality of citizens, ranging between 31% and 39%, support exclusively pro-EU and pro-Western foreign policy. In Albania and Kosovo, the dominant majority, 82% and 87%, are determined for a pro-Western foreign policy orientation.

On the other hand, in Serbia, 31% of citizens support a foreign policy of equidistance between the West and Russia, followed by the option of a pro-Russian foreign policy with maintaining relations with the West, which was chosen by 27% of citizens. Exclusively pro-Western foreign policy is chosen by only 10% of the population.

United States is the most positively rated foreign country in Albania and Kosovo. Germany and Turkey are also among the most favourably viewed coutires for Kosovo and Albania, as well as North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the case of Serbia, Russia and China are in the first two positions.

In the four Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia – the most popular foreign leader is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while in Kosovo and Serbia, he is among the three most popular foreign leaders.

The foreign leader with the highest favorability in Kosovo is President of the United States Joe Biden, while in Serbia it is Russian President Vladimir Putin, closely followed by the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In terms of regional cooperation formats, the Open Balkan Initiative enjoys complete or partial support from the majority of citizens in five Western Balkan countries, which varies from 54% in Montenegro to 82% in North Macedonia. The exception is Kosovo, where 51% of citizens are completely opposed to the Open Balkan.

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