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The Balkans form a geopolitical region in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula (the Balkans as geopolitical region and the peninsula are not completely synonymous), and is named after its mountainous terrain (balkan means mountain in Turkish). The Balkans comprise all of the following countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. Large parts of Croatia en Serbia lie in the Balkans; Romania, Slovenia and Turkey only for a small part. Of these, Greece (since 1981), Slovenia (since 2004), Bulgaria and Romania (both since 2007) are EU members. Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia and Montenegro are candidate countries, while Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia are potential candidates. The region has over 50 million inhabitants.
Much of the discussion about the Balkan countries becoming EUmembers revolves around money. How much will they ‘get’ from the EU in the form of subsidies etc., and how much will they contribute? The maximum of what a member state is asked to contribute is 1.2% of its gdp, resulting in large differences of what member states pay. Some states receive twice as much than they contribute, thanks to agriculture subsidies and regional aid. Others give much more than they receive. The table shows the eight candidate and potential candidate countries listing their GDP, unemployment percentage and percentage of the population living below the poverty line. The average GDP per capita in the current EU is €21.400, unemployment is 9.3% and 17% of the EU population lives below the poverty threshold or close to poverty.
Much has been said about corruption in the Balkan countries since discussions about EU membership started. Corruption is often difficult to pin down and measure, but all reports show that it is a significant problem in the region. A 2011 report from the UNODC about corruption in the western Balkans shows that bribing government officials is a highly prevalent practice: eight out of ten people in the region come in contact with bribery each year. What is called ‘petty corruption’ is not as petty as it seems: the average bribe (two thirds in the form of cash, the other third in food, drink, or other) in the region is worth 257 eur-ppp. Though more than half of these bribes are paid because of an (in)direct request from a public official, in 43% of the cases they are offered by citizens without any coercion present. The Corruption Perceptions Index of 2010 ranks countries by their perceived level of public sector corruption from 0 to 10, 0 being highly corrupt and 10 very clean. By comparison, the Netherlands scored an 8.8, the UK a 7.6.
Religion and ethnicity
The Balkans have a large variety of ethnicities, languages and religious traditions, often unconnected to country borders. The largest part of the population is made up of Albanians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Romanians, Montenegrins, Serbs, and Bosnian Muslims. Vlachs and Roma are smaller, stateless groups. The main religions are Islam and Christianity. A large part of the tension in the area is due to different faiths – identity in the Balkans is often closely connected to religion rather than to language or even nationality. Whether religion is considered an important part of life differs per country but is quite high all across the area – according to a 2010 Gallup poll, 89% of people in Kosovo stated religion was an important part of their life, 76% of Macedonians, 60% of Bosnians, and 53% of Serbs. Likewise 68% of Croatians stated religion was important and 61% of Montenegrins. Albania had the lowest score with 44%.
While the governments of the (potential) candidates want to join the EU, not all citizens are equally eager. A Gallup report shows that there are quite some differences among the populations, dependent on ethnic background and country. The strongest identification with Europe is among the Albanians in Kosovo, with 72%. In Albania itself it is 50%, in Macedonia (with a lot of Albanians) it is 49%. The lowest support we find among the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina: 10%, and Kosovo, 15%. 21% of The Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina identify with Europe. All others are between 23% and 29%. However, the majority of the populations in the countries, save for Croatia and recently Bosnia and Herzegovina, is of the opinion that EU membership would be a good thing.
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