This article evaluates public perceptions of the European Union (EU) in Montenegro and Serbia as the front running EU membership candidates. It uses a multidisciplinary approach, which comprises a comparative survey data analysis method, the Image Theory and a mind-mapping approach of EU perceptions analysis to study the EU-Western Balkans relations. Public perceptions of the EU in the Western Balkans are (re)created and juxtaposed against perceptions of other external actors, notably Russia and China. This has led to the EU’s ‘power of attraction’ being diminished in the Western Balkans. Rival perceptions of China and Russia as ‘less demanding’ partners than the EU, and the slowing down of EU’s enlargement agenda have also contributed to this trend. In order to maximize its own security and counter the growing geopolitical influence by China and Russia in the Western Balkans, the EU would benefit from a more comprehensive study of its own representation and public perceptions in candidate states. By doing so, the EU could improve the knowledge about its soft power, which can in turn increase the effectiveness of its foreign policy programmes globally and democracy promotion in the neighbourhood.