Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Reciprocal Perceptions between Western Balkan Countries and the EU: News Coverage on the EU Accession Process in Daily Newspapers

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Reciprocal Perceptions between Western Balkan Countries and the EU: News Coverage on the EU Accession Process in Daily Newspapers

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

As a number of political analyses and recent research studies have outlined, there is increasing Euroskepticism and fatigue among current EU member states as far as the further enlargement of the EU is concerned. (2) Some reasons for this growing hesitation include the two latest accession rounds of 2004 and 2007, but also the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007, or most recently the global economic crisis and its impacts on the European economy. This fatigue does not only apply to the political elites: Annual public opinion surveys show that the populations in many EU countries express a significant degree of skepticism with regard to a further EU enlargement: besides Turkey, the countries of the Western Balkan region (WBC (3)) thereby seem to have the hardest stance with regard to their membership endeavors. In the Eurobarometer Standard Survey 74 (Fall 2010), which included a specific survey section distinguishing different future EU member state candidates, when asked "Please tell me, whether you are for or against further enlargement of the EU to include other countries in future years," with regard to the countries of the Western Balkan region, an EU average of 45% of the population answered that they were against further enlargement to the region.

On the other hand, the populations in the WBC express considerable willingness to join the EU and have high expectations regarding this membership. At the same time, they are increasingly skeptical about how much they are appreciated and welcomed as new members by the population of the EU. In the Gallup Balkan Monitor Survey (2010) when asked, "Generally speaking, do you think that [your country's] membership in the EU would be a good thing?", in Serbia 44%, in BiH 69%, in Macedonia 60%, and in Kosovo even 87% of the interviewees said it would be a good thing. However, when asked "Do you think that the people in the EU want [your country] to join the EU?" in Serbia 36%, in Macedonia 28% in BiH 37%, and in Kosovo 14% assumed that most people in the EU would not want this. With the official accession negotiation process with WBC currently under way, this presents an unpredictable factor relating to whether or not and when those countries will actually become EU members, an exception here being Croatia as the only country of the region that has already signed the EU Accession Treaty, according to which the country will become the 28th Member State of the European Union on 1 July 2013.

Some studies suggest that growing Euroscepticism among EU citizens is determined by variables such as economic cost-benefit considerations, national political culture considerations, or (national) identity. (4) However, a majority of those studies ignore that the formation of public opinion depends to a great extent on media information, and that mass media may have the capability to determine differing levels of Euroscepticism or support for EU enlargement. Because of the lack of first-hand experience, citizens retrieve the vast majority of information and analysis from their national news media. (5) At the same time we cannot, from population surveys alone, fully retrieve insights into the images and perceptions of the EU or the WBC when people are asked about their support for a future EU enlargement. (6) The potential conflict between differing expectations and the skepticism that may result from positions stated in those surveys can only be described and interpreted on a very general and abstract level, while the attitudes towards the EU cannot be traced to underlying political, economic, cultural or social principles and practices.

The state of research on EU accession-related topics still lacks more profound analyses carried out with regard to the perception of the news coverage on the WBC in EU countries. Therefore, we still lack more profound media data that we could consult to relate it to the mentioned survey results. Furthermore, the differing public attitudes with regard to EU enlargements as well as the increasing EU skepticism on both the EU side and the WBC side indicate a potential conflict in the accession process ahead. …

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