Katja Geršak, Executive Director at Centre for European Perspective discusses current risks in the Western Balkans and European perspective of the region.
What are the risks for countries in Western Balkans?
In the long run the biggest risk for countries in Western Balkans is that they will become a region where powers will compete for political and economic influence. Western global predominance is on the wane. The center of global power is moving east to China and Russia has become our strategic competitor in the region. Turkey is also exerting its influence and China is looking at various maritime ports in the Balkans as an alternative route to enter Europe.
Weak economies, corrupt political establishments and volatile relations make countries in Western Balkans more vulnerable to foreign interference. Russia, always interested in access to warm waters, would like to see the EU and NATO weakened, thus has an interest in sowing instability in the region. Turkey, another rising regional power is interested in strategically projecting power in the Balkans, especially in BiH and that could come at the expense of EU influence (depending on Turkey’s relations with the EU). China does not yet have any strong political interests, apart from trading routes, but these are likely to develop as China and Russia are bound to become strategic competitors in the coming decades.
How important is the European perspective for the countries in Western Balkans in managing those risks?
I believe the EU is still ‘the only game in town’ for the Balkan region. The European perspective is vital for prosperity and stability of this region in the coming decades. The EU’s focus on good governance and its large market are crucial for the development of Western Balkan countries. The more integrated these countries are, the more stable the region, and consequently Europe, will be (this is of course preconditioned on Western Balkans taking responsibility to reform their corrupt political structures).
Does the EU have a strategic and decisive approach in the dialogue with Western Balkan countries? Do you see any leverage that could reduce risks, such as security risks or growth of nationalism, where negative consequences could transcend beyond the region?
From geostrategic point of view NATO and EU integration are very sound moves for security of the Balkans and Europe as a whole. And looking at it very pragmatically, the EU should speed up the integration of the region and start addressing the hard issues one by one within the process of negotiating each chapter. Europe is tied to Western Balkans geographically, but for our own future security, and I’m speaking as a Slovenian here as well, we also need to strongly tie the region to the EU economically and politically.
Centre for European Perspective is based in Ljubljana, Slovenia.