From: Alice Taylor
Dutch Still Not Convinced on Western Balkan Englargement

Over half of the Dutch public are not positive about EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, according to a new report which also lays bare a fundamental lack of knowledge on accession criteria.

Many observers have classified the Netherlands as fundamentally sceptical about enlargement over the past year, the report by Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) and d|part notes. This is often linked to a negative attitude towards EU enlargement among the Dutch population and the government, which has embedded such an attitude over the years.

However, the survey findings register a slight improvement in perceptions, although the figures are still not reassuring for those in the EU’s waiting room.

“The results of our study show the shift in the Dutch public attitudes towards the enlargement that are more positive. This result came as sort of surprise to the interviewed decision-makers and political elites in the Netherlands. Thus it gives us a grounding base to expect faster and more positive approach towards the accession policies,” said Milena Stefanovic, programme manager at the European Fund for the Balkans and co-author of the study.

Some 45% thought that enlargement into the region would be good or very good, while 55% think it is negative, very negative, or are unsure.

A further 49% think that enlargement with the Western Balkans will have a negative or neutral impact on their lives. Fears and concerns include the rule of law, civil rights, and the use of Dutch taxpayers’ money.

But this could be improved further by engaging with citizens more on the functioning of the EU, said Dr Jan Eichorn, research director at d|part and co-author of the study.

“Instead, worries about enlargement are often reflections of concerns about how the EU functions generally. So starting by engaging citizens with existing EU institutions and processes is the best way to build support for expansion.”

While respondents had firm opinions on EU criteria being upheld as a precondition of accession, the majority knew very little about them.

“Altogether, both member states and regional political elites need to deliver. It seems public is more aware and awake than decision-makers. Time dimension is crucial. No more excuses,” Stefanovic said.

The study’s authors believe that both the member states and the region’s politicians need to deliver more to progress with enlargement.

“It seems public is more aware and awake than decision-makers. The time dimension is crucial. No more excuses,” Stefanovic said.