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ENLARGEMENT : POLL: CROATS LEAST ENTHUSIASTIC FOR EU ACCESSION.

Croatia, a front-runner among the Western Balkan countries hoping to join the EU, is at the same time the most sceptical about EU accession, an opinion poll reveals. Less than one third (29%) of Croats believe that their country's accession to the EU would be "a good thing," says the Gallup Balkan Monitor report, published on 17 November. An opposite view is shared by more than one-fourth of Croats (26%), with 38% admitting to be undecided, according to the poll.

This low level of support for EU membership could be attributed, according to Robert Manchin, CEO of Gallup Europe, to several factors, such as fear of losing national identity and of having to bear the costs of painful social and economic reforms required by the EU. "Croatia is the country with the highest level of national pride in the Balkans. Croats are afraid that upon their accession to the EU they will lose their identity," said Manchin, outlining the main findings of the report at a press conference.

According to Fabrice de Kerchove of the Belgian King Baudouin Foundation, the example of previous accessions shows that it is common for EU enthusiasm to decrease at the last stage before accession. "Usually at this final leg the candidate countries have to implement painful reforms" that discourage support for EU membership, de Kerchove said.

Croatia, which is expected to finalise accession talks by November 2009, has left the implementation of difficult reforms in the shipbuilding sector until the last moment, mostly out of fear of social unrest, as the country's six shipyards employ a total of 15,000 people. Under pressure from the European Commission, Zagreb has to eventually embark on restructuring the country's loss-making companies, which may spark dissatisfaction among the people.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, public support for EU membership is also quite low (48%). Compared to Croatia, the proportion of people who believe that accession would be "a bad thing" is slightly lower, though. In Bosnia, one out of ten respondents (11%) is negative about accession, according to the poll.

Kosovo and Albania are at the opposite pole, with public support for membership reaching 89% and 83%, respectively. Only 4% of Kosovars and 2% of Albanians are of the opinion that accession would be "a bad thing". These two nations also feel most "welcome" by the EU. Eight in ten respondents in Kosovo (82%) and two-thirds of respondents from Albania (67%) agree that their country is welcome at the political level and only a small minority disagree (5% and 12%, respectively), says the poll. The opposite feeling is shared by Croats and Bosnians.

As for the date of accession, the Croatians are most optimistic. On average, they expect that their country will join the EU by 2013. Macedonians believe that the accession of their country might happen in 2015 and the Serbs hope to join the EU in 2018. Kosovars and Albanians indicate 2020 as the earliest date for accession.

A table is available at www.europolitics.info > Search = 238061

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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Nov 19, 2008
Words:501
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