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Macedonian EU support still strong but decreasing September 1, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, Macedonia.
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Macedonia has seen a drop in its citizens’ support for the EU

A majority of Macedonians is still supporting the country’s bid for EU membership – but the numbers are dwindling and nowhere near as high as they used to be.

Sixty percent of Macedonian citizens think their country entering into the European Union would be a good thing, according to the latest Eurobarometer. Last autumn, the figure stood at 66 percent. The number of people who believe that EU membership will bring benefits to Macedonia has decreased to 73 percent, down from 76 percent last year.

That would be an impressive level in a lot of EU member countries. But it is surprisingly low for the traditionally EU-enthusiastic Macedonians. When the country first started on its path towards accession, pollsters regularly recorded approval rates that hovered around 90 percent.

The latest results have provoked heated debates. For many observers the drop is not worrying in itself but rather because it is part of a steady trend. The opposition accuses the government of fomenting euroscepticism among citizens.

For Radmila Sekerinska, a social democrat MP and former minister for EU integration, anti-European policies by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski are to blame. “For 20 years Macedonia has had 90 percent support for EU membership. Mr Gruevski’s government destroyed it. During its four years of anti-European policy each governmental failure was attributed to the EU. That has created this mood and done long-term damage,” Ms Sekerinska said.

The opposition liberal-democrat MP Andrej Zernovski is not surprised by the Eurobarometer findings. “For a long period, the public has been targetted by a governmental campaign, with officials telling us that we don’t need to be an EU member. That we have alternatives and, ultimately, that the EU will fall apart.”

He points to another survey commissioned by the Macedonian Secretariat for EU integration, a governmental body. That poll showed increasing euroscepticism, with 66.5 percent of citizens declaring it more important that the country keep its constitutional name “Republic of Macedonia” and not cave in to Greece than to enter the EU. Only 26.5 percent said Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership was a priority.

Since Macedonia’s independence from ex-Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has been denying its neighbour the right to the self-chosen name. Both countries have been locked in a 17 year-long dispute and negotiations under a UN umbrella have seen no significant progress. Athens blocked Macedonia’s entry into NATO in 2008 and is currently blocking the opening of EU accession talks with Skopje.

Vasko Naumovski, the government’s vice president for EU integration, said Macedonians were still among the biggest EU-enthusiasts. Support is much stronger than in EU countries themselves, Mr Naumovski said, claiming that this “could be a consequence of some reforms that we make.” He also thinks that Greece’s blocking of Macedonia’s accession into the EU plays a role. “We should not ignore the open questions Macedonia has with some EU member states.”

The eurobarometer survey was conducted in May in the 27 EU member states as well as the candidates countries Croatia, Turkey, Iceland, Macedonia and the northern part of Cyprus.

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