BiH Citizens’ Support for EU Accession: How Relevant Is It?
By Haris Ćutahija
Since 2008, the Directorate for European Integration has conducted an annual public opinion poll on Bosnia and Herzegovina's citizens’ support for EU accession and other European integration-related topics. Last year's survey was conducted from October 6 to 19, on a nationally representative sample of 1,200 respondents. The results showed that three-quarters of citizens would vote for BiH's EU accession, with support significantly higher in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Brcko District than in the Republika Srpska, and these percentages remained the same as in 2019, when they increased significantly over the previous year. Specifically, 87 percent of citizens in the Federation of BiH, 83.6 percent of citizens in the Brcko District, and only 55 percent in the Republika Srpska support BiH's entry into the EU.
Citizens from both entities and the Brcko District support our country's accession into the European Union for the same reasons, most notably that it is a guarantee of long-term peace and political stability, and the second reason is increased freedom of movement of people, goods, and capital. The same reasons were mentioned most frequently in 2019, while infrastructure improvement was stated more often in 2018. There were no significant differences in the reasons why citizens oppose BiH's EU accession; by far the most common reason is fear of rising living costs and taxes.
According to the same survey, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina believe that the European Union's interest in BiH's accession is largely due to BiH's natural resources, as well as to ensuring peace and stability and skilled and skilled workers. In the FBiH, citizens believe that the primary reason is to ensure peace and stability, whereas in the RS, citizens believe that the primary reason is natural resources.
However, the percentages in various surveys have varied over time, depending on who conducts them, what the sample size is, and who ultimately funds the research. Support was generally between 50 and 80 percent, with the most recent Balkan Barometer, published on July 24, 2021, demonstrating significant percentage differences. The Balkan Barometer is an annual public opinion poll conducted by the Regional Cooperation Council in six Western Balkan countries (RCC). It investigates life and work aspirations and expectations, current socioeconomic and political trends, and regional and European integration. Every year, an independent agency oversees the participation of over 6,000 citizens and 1,200 businesses from across the region. According to the survey, support for Bosnia and Herzegovina's entry is significantly lower among its citizens – only 50%, the lowest in the region.
The question now is how relevant all of these data are, regardless of how objective the research is, on what sample, and who conducts it, because several data from the Directorate for European Integration show that citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina know little about the process of BiH's integration into the EU. Thus, nearly 60% of respondents have never heard of the Directorate, which has been in existence since 2003 and is responsible for coordinating the processes and activities of institutions arising from BiH's integration into the European Union, and nearly half of respondents said they do not know or refused to answer the question of what the Directorate's role is. Then, nearly half of the respondents did not know or did not want to answer about the current state of BiH's integration into the European Union, and only 18 percent of those who did answered correctly.
Who is to blame for the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina? The European Union that does not conduct enough campaigns aimed at potential members’ citizens? State institutions that use bureaucratic and technocratic language in announcements and media appearances when it comes to the process of European integration? Politicians who, with a few exceptions, cannot even claim a broad understanding of the process, so they frequently state unverified and inaccurate information in the media? Citizens who are uninterested in or unaware of the integration process?
The most important point to emphasize in all of this is that the process of European integration affects citizens as well as politicians and state institutions, because it determines their future. Citizens must understand what it means for the state to move toward European Union membership and what that entails, because this process, while positive, will also include aspects that will be painful for the state that aspires to membership and its citizens. This is not an amnesty for the European Union or the institutions. There must be an effective strategy for communicating the process of European integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will bring the process closer to the citizens, and research on perception will be much more relevant as a result.