Southeastern Europe is a Theater of Great Powers, but Slovenia can Play a Strategic RoleAdriatic Journal 9 January 2020
To mark the publication of the eighth consecutive edition of The Adriatic Journal: Strategic Foresight 2020, the Institute for Strategic Solutions organised its traditional annual event in Ljubljana at the beginning of January. This year’s event, titled The West turns its back on the Western Balkans, focused on anticipated political, social and economic trends in the coming year. “It is important that we are active in all areas of the Western Balkans region and take advantage of the opportunities that 2020 brings us,” said Dr. Miro Cerar, Slovenia’s minister of foreign affairs.
photos: Leon Vidic/DELO
The roundtable discussion, traditionally organised by the Institute for Strategic Solutions (ISR) at the beginning of the new year, included dr. Karin Kneissl, Austria’s former minister of foreign affairs; Blaž Brodnjak, chairman of the NLB board; Gregor Pilgram, member of the board of Generali CEE Holding; and Dr. Jure Stojan, ISR partner and director.
In the interview with Delo’s journalist Jure Kosec, Dr. Miro Cerar stressed the need to strengthen the countries of the Western Balkans so that they become part of the European Union. “I believe the European Union also needs to be more active for this to happen”, stressing the importance of foreign investment, “especially now that we see how the big countries are present not only in the Western Balkans, but also more broadly.”
“This economic factor is very important but it is not the only one. The European Union must be more active in all areas, including the political one.” He emphasised that the European Union did not behave responsibly and disappointed the people of Northern Macedonia and Albania but remained optimistic about the enlargement process. Here it is crucial that the European Union draws up a proper geopolitical strategy for the integration of the region. Cerar stressed that Slovenia is one of the most vocal supporters of the enlargement of the Union to the Western Balkans, which will also be one of the key political messages during Slovenia’s EU Presidency in the second half of 2021.
“The Western Balkans are a great opportunity for Slovenia. This is the only region where Slovenia can act as a strategic player,” said Tine Kračun, ISR director. Namely, Slovenian investments are not only in the interest of Slovenia but also in the interests of the Western Balkan countries, as they are strategic for the area in terms of development, good practices, and consequently economic stability and further development of the entire area.
The ISR underlined the following major risks that will be present in the Western Balkans in 2020:
- The impact of changing geopolitical conditions at the global level, reflected in the Western Balkans in the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies, far-right populism and nationalism, slowed economic growth, weaker state institutions and increased influence by Turkey, China and Russia; all of these will negatively impact the region’s economic environment.
- Uncertain EU enlargement perspective: The unclear outlook for further EU enlargement into the Western Balkan countries brings uncertainties, such as the implementation of the new “mini Schengen” initiative. The uncertainties will also impact the unresolved outstanding issues between countries which will continue to hamper socio-economic progress in the area.
- Corruption, weak state institutions, political influence in the judiciary, and the absence of the rule of law are all a reflection of ineffective functioning of state institutions. This undermines the strengthening of democratic processes, which are crucial for the countries looking to join the EU.
Dr. Jure Stojan introduced the concept of Balkanization and said that we need to look more broadly to get the right insight into 2020. He said that many times we do not know the Balkans enough, but we still expect and rely on the experience and contacts from decades back to still be applicable and to work today. Contacts must be nurtured and, above all, respected. This, however, does allow us to more easily manage uncertainties in a region that is just over 100 kilometers away.
"Southeastern Europe has been and remains a theater of great foreign powers," said Dr. Karin Kneissl.
Dr. Karin Kneissl believes that bilateral talks will weigh on multilateralism in the future, meaning that both the world and Southeastern Europe will increasingly return to the old rails of classic bilateral diplomacy.
Blaž Brodnjak sees Slovenia’s opportunity in the region’s seeming instability, which makes the Western Balkan countries relatively unattractive to investments by global players, with the exception of Turkey, China and Russia. And even those are, according to Brodnjak, lacking strategic orientation and complete understanding of the region. This creates a large space for niche-oriented entrepreneurship, such as the banking sector, emphasized Brodnjak and pointed »NLB as a good practice example, being among the three strongest companies in as many as five countries in the Western Balkans.«
Gregor Pilgram said that for Generali, the Western Balkans region is included in the region of Central and Southeastern Europe. Political risk is not something that has the most influence on business players when deciding whether to choose to enter these markets, Pilgram believes. According to him, the political risk in this area is not as high as it seems from Slovenia. He is convinced that Slovenia must continue to be export-oriented, and it is equally important, he argued, that as a country Slovenia is not losing talent, knowledge and energy.