EU and Western Balkan States Articles
Intro- Holger Haibach
(No. 1, 2020. EU and Western Balkan states)
12 Jan 2021 10:45:00 AM
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Dear reader,
This is the first in a series of publications that will discuss Croatia’s and the European Union’s relationship with the Western Balkans region and the overall developments in these countries (called, in short, WB6). We had begun this project with the hope of holding discussions beneficial and helpful to Croatia and the European Union as well as to the aforementioned states. Croatia – for the first time since its accession in 2013 – took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first six months of 2020.

The first publication focuses primarily on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia. It provides for a high-quality overview of the bilateral and trilateral relations of these countries, with insights that will be expanded further in the publications to come.

The times in which we find ourselves today place before us complex challenges, which our European societies will have to learn to solve and overcome. The European Union plays an active and important role in the region. This is especially true given the unforeseeable future developments and trajectories of another traditional partner of the region, the United States.

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European decision makers and societies are well aware that if the WB6 region was left without proper engagement, the ensuing political void would attract other actors. It is in the interest of the European Union, therefore, to create a proactive environment which will deal with developments in these countries that would otherwise give rise to and increase this political void.

 

Because of this, we decided to explore and discuss a range of topics to deepen our comprehension of EU’s enlargement policy and the activities of other foreign actors, so as to be able to discern more clearly the processes and tendencies unfolding in the region.


With the arrival of a new executive administration in the United States, led by a President well versed in the history and dynamics of the region, we may expect new developments in the months and years to come.

I would also like to emphasize the importance of membership in NATO, not only for the purpose of territorial security, notably of the WB6 countries. Membership in NATO, precisely due to the security which it offers, helps support and promote an environment beneficial for investments and therefore economic growth. Unfortunately, the WB6 countries still exhibit political, economic and social volatility and therefore remain insecure. Further progress on their path towards EU membership as well as membership in NATO will substantially promote their stability.

Global developments require of the EU to establish its proper role and mission in the world and to assume responsibility for the provision of solutions to challenges that can only be met through strengthened European and global cooperation. The same is true of the Western Balkans region, where foreign actors are vying for influence as part of their global competition. Last, but not least, the EU needs to further emphasize and support the promotion of its basic values in the countries of the region. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us the most recent example how foreign actors attempt to exploit challenges put before the region in order to expand their influence, while at the same time attempting to paint the EU as a second-rate player. The narratives surrounding the provision of humanitarian assistance given by the EU to help combat this crisis often distorted the reality with respect to the actual size of European contribution. In our view, Europe was, at least initially, somewhat caught off guard in responding to these distorting narratives.

For the benefit of the Western Balkans region and Europe as a whole, the EU will have to finally come up with a joint concept of how it wants to deal with the region, in order to be able to act in a more focused, purposeful and proactive way.

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