FILE - EU flags fly at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)

Belgrade - The proportion of Serbs in favour of the country's efforts to join the European Union has fallen to the lowest level since the first poll a decade earlier, a survey showed on Thursday.

In a poll of 1000 respondents between Dec 14 and Dec 21 2012, only 41 percent said they would vote for joining the EU, down from 49 percent in June 2012 and the lowest since the question was first surveyed in 2002. The poll was carried out by Serbia's Office for European Integration and TNS Medium Gallup.

The result came after the European Commission said on Oct. 10 Serbia was not ready for accession talks to join the bloc because of tensions with Kosovo, its former southern province.

The EU also wants the Socialist-nationalist government which came to power last July to reform Serbia's economy and judiciary, improve the rule of law and business climate and fight organised crime and corruption.

Support for EU membership was eroded by what many Serbs felt was undue pressure over their relations with Kosovo, seen by many here as the cradle of their Orthodox Christianity, said Milan Pajevic, the head of the Office for European Accession.

“People are sensitive about everything they see as political conditions (for membership), like mending ties with (the government in) Pristina,” he said in a statement, referring to Kosovo's capital.

The economic crisis in the euro zone, Serbia's largest trade partner, also reduced enthusiasm for the EU, Pajevic said.

“Support for the EU is falling .... mainly as a consequence of the (economic) crisis and the lack of readiness by taxpayers from the EU to finance other limping economies,” he said.

Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 following a 78-day NATO bombing, although it retains de facto control of a Serb-populated pocket of the north.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and has been recognised by more than 90 countries including the United States and most of its EU allies, but not by Serbia.

Belgrade and Pristina have held EU-mediated talks meant to normalise relations and loosen Serbia's grip over the north.

Support for joining the EU hit 73 percent in 2003, after the assassination by an underworld clan and a paramilitary unit of Serbia's pro-Western Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Serbia secured EU membership candidate status last March.

The poll showed 31 percent of Serbs would vote against joining the EU. Others would not vote or were undecided.

Despite resentment at EU pressure on the subject of Kosovo, 62 percent supported better ties with Pristina. As many as 66 percent of respondents supported pro-EU structural reforms.

Of six former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and Croatia will follow this year. Montenegro began accession talks last June.

Macedonia's ambitions to join are blocked by Greece, due to a dispute over the country's name, which it shares with a Greek province. Neither Bosnia and Kosovo are accession states. - Reuters