Balkan Barometer 2023 Public Opinion

Key Findings

The 2023 Balkan Barometer surveys were conducted between early February and early April 2023 in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. The Public Opinion survey posed 79 questions to 6027 citizens and the Business Opinion survey presented 80 questions to 1211 business owners, managers, or executives. As in the previous editions, the answers of survey respondents have been systemised, analysed, and presented in the two reports – Public Opinion Survey and Business Opinion Survey.

The 9th edition of Balkan Barometer comes at a difficult time for the region, Europe, and the world. After the pandemic and its considerable impact on economies and citizens' lives, the world, Western Balkans as well, are faced with several consequences since the start of the war in Ukraine in 2022. This edition of the Balkan Barometer tries to explore perceptions of citizens on a large variety of components which affect their daily operations and lives.

Regional cooperation as a silver-lining

The citizens’ support to regional cooperation remains strong and steady throughout the years, as 76% of them believe it can contribute to improving the political, economic and security situation in their economy. Additionally, 69% of them agree that what brings the Western Balkan citizens together is more important than what separates them.

This positive outlook is reflected on young people aged 18-24 as well, since - 76% of them support regional cooperation and 67% agree that what brings Western Balkan citizens together is more important than what separates them.

Depopulation worries on the rise

Worries about depopulation are on the rise while 5% citizens more than last year, or 44 are thinking to live and work abroad. Out of the 44%, the majority, or 68% choose the EU, while 18% would prefer the US.

What is even more worrisome is that 71% of youth aged 18-24 are considering leaving the region - 10% more than two years ago.

Rise of EU membership support is wavering

After the steadily rising support to the EU membership among Western Balkan citizens from year to year, this year’s edition reveals a drop to 59% or 3 percent less than in 2021. Albania holds the highest number of supporters (92% or 3 points more than in 2022) while Serbia has the lowest number of supporters (34% or 4 points less than 2022).

A third of Western Balkan citizens, or 34% (3% less than last year), are still optimistic believing that the EU accession will happen by 2030, and another 32% aim for 2035. However, almost a quarter (23%) think it will never happen, which is 3% more than in 2020.

More than a half of respondents, or 52%, believe that phone costs when travelling to the EU are high. A quarter of them consider them very high. Respondents from North Macedonia are the least happy with phone costs when travelling to the EU (67%) while Kosovo* respondents are the least worried about phone costs due to visa regime still in place and less possibilities to travel to the EU.

Scepticism only? Or there are also benefits associated with EU membership

40% of individuals (or 3 points more than 2022) express optimism towards economic prosperity as the most anticipated benefit of EU membership at a personal level. On a closer look, for 38% of youth respondents, EU membership means economic prosperity.

Freedom to study and/or work in the EU is associated with 29% of respondents or 3 points less than in 2022. 44% of youth respondents associate the EU with the freedom to pursue educational and professional endeavours, highlighting the appeal of mobility and cross-border opportunities.

Freedom to travel and peace and stability are associated with the EU membership for 24% of respondents.

Economic situation - remains the main problem as of last year, but brain drain is closing in

Last year, for the first time since 2015, the economic situation took over the infamous first place on the list of “the main problem for the region” from unemployment, with 47% of people citing it. The same trend remains this year too, followed by unemployment with 32% and corruption with 27%.Despite being cited as the second major problem, unemployment has seen a steady decline over the years - 7 points less compared to the previous year, but less by a half since 2015 (it was 68%). However, the brain drain trend, which is seen as the biggest problem, is steadily on the rise. In 2015 it was 0, then picked up already in 2016 with 7%, followed by steady rise over the years, to 18% last year, and a huge jump this year to 26%!

Hopes for the future on the horizon

Expectations of respondents regarding the overall economy trajectory in 12 months registered a slight improvement of optimism by 3 points and a decrease of pessimism by 3 points.

Majority state that they do not foresee any change (37%), another 31% are optimistic and believe that the state of the economy will improve, while 29% expect a deterioration.

38% of youth aged 18-24 believe that the situation in the region will improve in the next 12 months, indicating a significant level of optimism within the youth population of the region.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence