Nationalism and public opinion on EU integration: the case of Serbia

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The EU is at the centre of attention currently. While there are debates about the future of Europe and the dismissal of countries out of the Eurozone, there are also countries on their way to becoming a new member of the EU. Serbia is one of these countries. Little more than a decade ago this country was still caught in a disastrous conflict which resulted in an isolated position within the international community. In 2000 the nationalistic rule of Milošević came to an end and the new government immediately initiated a restoration of Serbia in Europe. Serbia was granted the official candidate status in March this year. In literature we find that there is problematic relation between nationalism and a positive public opinion on European integration. First, a strong position of nationalism in the country does not allow people to identify with anything other than their nation, thus also not with Europe. Second, nationalism wants to protect the sovereignty of a country and does not approve the transfer of authority to another level, such as the EU. Given the history of Serbia with nationalism I wanted to test these theories with the case of Serbia’s EU integration, by a) assessing the importance of nationalism in Serbia nowadays and b) by studying the effect nationalism had on the politics and public opinion with regard to European integration. The case study shows that there are factors in the Serbian society which have slowed down the integration process. The conditions that are set by the EU, especially with regard to Kosovo and cooperation with the ICTY, have faced opposition in the country. The proEuropean government therefore had to find strategies to balance between the conservative forces in the country and the demands of the EU. They adopted a strategy in which they have separated the affective and utilitarian dimension of becoming European. They have downplayed the first and emphasized the second. Among the public we see the same division being made. A large part of the population dislikes and distrusts the EU because they feel treated unjustly by them. On the other hand, people want Serbia to become a member of the EU because they expect that this will be beneficiary for their country as a whole and will improve their personal economic situation. I conclude that the nationalistic sentiments that are present in Serbia at the moment, do influence the process of EU integration. I have not found evidence that the reason for this is the impossibility to develop a European identity due to a strong attachment to the national identity. In Serbia it is influenced mostly by the threat they perceive to national sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially with regard to Kosovo. On the other hand we have observed that utilitarian arguments have a strong influence on people’s public opinion on European integration.
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