Political scientists say EU lost battle for Balkans – EURACTIV.com
The EU has lost the battle for the Balkans, where Russia and China are offering bonuses without asking for reforms, geopolitical experts said at an online conference hosted by EURACTIV.bg this week, offering increased cooperation and a Balkan common market as the best way forward.
The “Balkan Geopolitics” conference was held on Tuesday (July 13), with the participation of American political scientist George Friedman, founder of Stratfor.com and GeophysicalFutures.com, as well as Solomon Passy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and founder of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, and many players in the region.
According to Friedman, states have reasons not to trust each other and any action in favor of one country is seen as a threat by others. This is why the outside world must work either with the whole of the Balkans or with none of its countries, he argued.
Friedman warned, however, that expectations should be low as to what can be achieved in the Balkans, how much their culture can change and how long that will take. He was adamant that Washington US would not interfere in the region as it had done before.
A Balkan Union?
Passy argued that the solution for the Balkans is for countries to work together, and even called for a “Balkan Union” which, in his words, could operate under the aegis of the EU and NATO, and could mean unity in different fields – economy, defense, sports, culture.
By way of example, Passy mentioned a hypothetical call for tenders in the field of telecommunications launched in Bulgaria for its market of seven million inhabitants. A similar tender for the whole of the Balkans with 55 million people would be much more attractive, he argued.
“In the same way, we can have a common energy market, we can send a joint application to participate in Eurovision or the UEFA football competition. (…) Or what about a common Balkan space program, ”Passy said. He even suggested that all countries in the region subscribe to the same time zone.
He acknowledged that such a union faces minor challenges and mentioned the Bulgarian veto on the start of North Macedonian EU membership negotiations. According to him, however, this dispute can be settled in a matter of months.
As another challenge, Passy cited Russia’s spy center in the Serbian town of Nis, which in his words does not appear to bother the EU. He further underlined that Serbia is currently the Achilles heel of the region.
Russia and China’s influence is visible, but China’s is more important in the long run, the former diplomat said. According to Passy, the Three Seas Initiative should integrate Serbia before Belgrade joins the EU and NATO.
Blackmail and mistrust
Mira Milošević, senior researcher at the Royal Elcano Institute in Spain, highlighted the idea that the EU has already lost the battle for the Balkans. She said the Balkan nations did not trust each other, but added that they also did not trust the great powers.
“Kosovo or Albania, for example, see the United States as this savior. Serbia and (part of) Bosnia and Herzegovina see many more saviors in Russia or even in China, ”she said.
In its own words, Serbia blackmails the great powers with the argument – if you don’t want to help us, we have a “B” plan, which is to look to other foreign powers “who don’t ask me to do something special just to support myself ”.
Nonetheless, she said that the EU is the only strategic actor that can have a serious impact on the region and expressed hope that the current Slovenian presidency of the EU will manage to relaunch the accession process.
She said Russia was perhaps the most visible actor in the Balkans, but China was more important. Russia, she said, is present in the purely historic region, but China, with its economic might and long-term strategy, poses a more serious challenge to European interests in the Balkans.
Milošević warned that the EU does not see that “they are not as attractive as they were 35 years ago. The EU has lost credibility and with the coronavirus it has lost much more credibility, ”she said, referring to the EU’s inability to provide vaccines to the people of the region.
Would someone do what Sanader did?
Nemanja Todorović Štiplija, founder of the Center for Contemporary European Policy in Belgrade, recalled Croatia’s experience in joining the EU.
Croatian Prime Minister at the time of the accession talks, Ivo Sanader, was considered the most effective Balkan leader in breaking with the past, until his resignation in 2009, then he was jailed and convicted of corruption on several charges.
“A few years later we saw that he was one of the most corrupt politicians in the Balkans. When he made all the reforms in Croatia, he realized that he would be the first to be arrested by the anti-corruption police he put in place. After that, no politician in the Western Balkans will end the reforms in the field of fighting corruption, organized crime or anything related to the justice system, ”Todorović Štiplija said.
According to him, the current leaders of the Western Balkans are not at all interested in the EU because they are doing quite well.
He said that the influence of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the Balkans is huge, especially in the media sphere, because the region “loves the Orbán system and Serbia is the leader in copying this model”, which means governing without the rule of law and without free media, said Todorović Štiplija.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]