07 January 2019


Stelian Teodorescu

Image source: Mediafax

In Western Balkans’ security and political context, the fragility which defines the region now and, probably, in the future also is featuring a complex interactions of the internal and external challenges that have a great influence over region’s stability.

2018 is a very important year for the general evolution of Western Balkans’ situation, and the expectations related to region’s integration process in European and Euroatlantic structures is becoming bigger and bigger, given that some key moments took place, as the following:

  • Bringing into force the strategy “O credible access perspective for the Western Balkans and EU’s increased commitment in the region”, on 06.02.2018, by the European Commission;
  • EU’s Home Affairs Ministries discussions (08.03.2018) about the cooperation with the Western Balkans in internal security and terrorism combat fields, based on the new strategy presented by the European Commission;
  • The EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia (17 May 2018), where the EU once again stressed its determination not to compromise on the full fulfillment of the accession criteria and on making the necessary progress to take into account applications for membership for each entity in the region;
  • Signing (17.06.2018) the Skopje-Athens treaty and its approval across the Macedonian Parliament (20.06.2018), regarding the change of the constitutional name of the country (in Republic of North Macedonia);
  • The fifth Summit developed under the aegis of “The Berlin process”[1], organized in London (09-10.07.2018), this initiative aiming to develop a collaboration to increase the security, stability and prosperity of the region;
  • Inviting Macedonia to start the discussions for the North-Atlantic Alliance accession, after accomplishing those conditions which were blocking the solution for the Athens-Skopje conflict regarding the name of the Macedonian state. The R. Macedonia’s Parliament brought into force a Declaration regarding the support of the accession process to NATO (19.07.2018);
  • Bringing into force the revision and upgrade of the directional strategy document for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), by the European Commission (03.08.2018), to consider the best solution for the EU integration process and the results gained until that moment in different areas, but also for a new extended period, until 2020;
  • According to the consensus made by the European Council (EC) about the progress Macedonia and Albania made in the European integration process, Skopje and Tirana will be able to start the accession discussions, in June 2019, if they will accomplish the imposed conditions.

Even if there were made huge progresses, we cannot deny that there were also some negative evolutions in the Western Balkans, which are featuring the difficulties related to extension as a policy in the region, hence which created some serious doubts about the capacities of area’s entities to accomplish the accession conditions.

The evolutions and the actual unpredictability condition of the candidates, but also the lack of progresses in the accession process (including the lack of interest related to ethnical and religious environment, as well as the political one) are caused, mainly, by the territorial issues, unsolved at the moment.

Hence, for 2019, we could debate and analyze the following forecasts for the Western Balkans entities:

  • The precarious economic and social situation, as well as the weak development condition of democracies across entities from a region which aims to access the European and Euroatlantic structures will continue to create the proper environment for external influences manifestation, which are not always matching EU and NATO’s vision for region’s future trajectory.
  • The flimsy political environment defined by a weak state authority and the tendency to favor some phenomena like corruption and organized crime, the persistence of some latent tensions generated by the separatist movements caused by the complex ethnical and religious structure of the population, the existence of some minor differences, of all kind, between the entities in the region and, not least, the inconclusive evolutions of the inter-state relations and the attempts to destabilize the region through different actions, will continue to question the capacity of the regional and international structures to manage the situation in the region.
  • Given such a context, we will witness more and more unassuming attitudes regarding EU’s capacity to firmly act in a region which is characterized by greater challenges and expectations, asking the European organization to play a stronger regional and global role.
  • The refugees and migrants afflux across the Balkan routes, as well as the huge migration towards EU, the significant number of fighters from the Western Balkans who participated at terrorist groups actions’ in Syria and Iraq and registering some types of weapons used in terrorist attacks in other regions of the world,  region’s increase number of groups favoring the Islamic fundamentalism and extremist nationalism, will all justify Western Balkans’ measure of getting close the European and Euroatlantic security space and, also, will feature region’s vulnerabilities against external instability and insecurity factors.
  • As consequence, EU and US will continue to intensify their efforts to balance the power in the region, which could actually allow Brussels, but especially Washington, to be more effective in managing the relations between the entities in the areas, as these are still affected by disputes and perspective differences in a political, ethnical and religious plan. Additionally, given that, besides Russia, other international actors are also interested in the region, EU and US will want to avoid a confrontation with Moscow, given that the Russian authorities are aiming to control region’s integration process in the European structures and, especially, to block NATO’s extension in the area, but also to consolidate its influence, in order to reorient Western Balkans policies towards Moscow.
  • Hence, to effectively support the region to access EU and, if the case, NATO, there are needed some tools and mechanism to surpass their own extension policy to approach this internal and external complexity challenges in the Western Balkans, region’s integration framework is to be applied through a conditionality approach;
  • A trustable accession process, based on strict and fair conditions, will be essential for development of a proper resilience capacity in the region, by cultivating state and society’s resistance, EU making a long-term investment for its own citizens interest. Looking for the most adequate mechanism to increase the impact of EU’s external action and to support the progress in the region, will ask for a preventive approach and an anticipative and proactive treatment of this area’s evolutions.
  • Considering the accession efforts in European structures, last three years’ economic increase experience makes the 2019’s forecast be favorable for Western Balkans economies, very likely to grow more than other regions from Central, East and South-East Europe’s regions, and the consume and infrastructure investments to have also a huge increase[2]. All of these aside, the economic increase in the Western Balkans could be negatively influenced by a possible cultivation and development of the perception of a high level of uncertainty in the political environment in the region regarding the EU and US support for the integration process of the region. A possible unpredictable and negative evolution in this field will be supported also by Russia, Turkey and China’s increased influence, generating doubts and, implicitly, concerns for the already weak stability of the region. Significant to highlight here are the steps taken by the Chinese authorities to increase influence in the region, an enviable example being the conduct of the VII summit of heads of the governments from Central and East Europe and China, under the aegis of the “16+1” format, which took place in Sofia, between 06-07.07.2018[3].
  • Labor force’s conditions will continue to get improved in the Western Balkans, as according to last years’ tendencies the region has the potential to meet a great increase of the labor force occupation and an important decrease of unemployment. Given positive increase perspectives, even if region’s external competitiveness is still weak, open account’s shortage could vary between 4% (Macedonia and Serbia) and 20% (Montenegro) from GDP;
  • It is quite clear that Western Balkans future is mainly tied with European and Euroatlantic structures, with EU and US’s political evolutions, because in the security field, the region needs support for an effective governance.

Considering some specific elements and talking specifically about the Western Balkans entities, for 2019, we can debate and analyze the following set of forecasts:

  • Serbia and Kosovo
  • The Pristina-Belgrade dialogue mediated by EU will continue, but the main obstacles will still remain the disagreements over Kosovo’s statute and, implicitly, over the future and rights of Serbian ethnics from North of the ex-Serbian province;
  • Hence, the international pressure over Belgrade and Pristina may significantly be increased in order for them to define their relations and get to an agreement about relations normalization. In these circumstances, even if Kosovo and Serbia’s leaders does not seem to give up their nationalist and populist rhetoric, in 2019 we may see a huge involvement of the main international actors, EU, US and Russia in solving the dispute related to Kosovo’s statute, to normalize the bilateral relations between Belgrade and Pristina and, not least, to clearly define the options and, especially the European and Euroatlantic future of both entities;
  • EU and US will intensify their efforts also to carefully manage the Belgrade-Pristina relation evolution, to avoid both parts making decisions which could cause major challenges that would increase the tensions or even start some conflicts which could also attract a possible intervention by Russia. To support this forecast we can argument that Serbia could exploit the opportunity to become EU member in 2025, and Kosovo could exploit the opportunity to deregulate the visas in 2019 and to benefit of a favorable international environment to become member of the great international organizations, including EU in 2037.
  • Seeing an improvement of the general situation in Serbia and Kosovo could depend on the maintenance of good relations with EU and NATO, which actually would upkeep Western Balkans integration process in European and Euroatlantic structures on an ascending trajectory. Brussels will upkeep its main lever, to mediate the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and equilibrium, avoiding a “new war which could be a hairbreadth away”.
  • Even if, at some point, Serbia’s president, Aleksandr Vucic and Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, announced that they will consider borders’ correction as part of relations’ normalization between Serbia and Kosovo to continue the accession process to EU, such a solution could be seen as a red line whose surpass could restart the ethnical conflict. Against this background, it can be predicted that a possible change of territories and borders between Serbia and Kosovo is excluded in the short term, but can not be ruled out in the 2020-2022 period. At the moment, such a proposal will face a significant opposition from countries like Germany and Great Britain, even if at some point the approval seemed like a solution for EU and US regarding the Serbia-Kosovo dispute, probably the objective being to solve these things out before the 2019 elections for the European Parliament;
  • Although at a given moment Russia also was considering a possible border correction on ethnical criteria as a solution for the Belgrade-Pristina dispute, the debate on this topic could be seen as a strategy to negotiate, but also as an availability to make compromises between Serbia and Kosovo. Such an attitude from Belgrade and Pristina leaders could aim to get the support of the main international actors to solve the dispute between these entities, accordingly with their own interests.
  • If there will be an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, probably in the spring of 2019, it could previously be arranged a referendum regarding this topic, Serbia’s president, Aleksandr Vucic underlining after Brussels’ discussions with the Kosovar president, Hashim Thaci, that “it will not sign nothing and the final decision will be on the people”. All of these aside, as long as Serbia and Kosovo’s perspectives to access EU remain tied and conditioned by making an agreement on the statue of the ex-Serbian province, we cannot expect Belgrade to accept, on short-term, making some significant compromises without having great concessions in its accession integration process.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • The results of presidential and parliamentary general elections developed in BIH, on 07.10.2018, confirmed, on long term, the division on ethnical criteria between the three main ethnical groups, as well as inside of them, the general effects influencing the 2019 general elections from BIH;
  • Milorad Dodik, ex-President of Republic of Srpska (RS) and Serbian nationalist, winning a position across BIH’s presidency will consolidate the idea of dividing the Bosnian state on ethnical criteria;
  • Despite the fact that after years of political crisis and instability, and after the Ministries Council from Bosnia and Herzegovina made important steps towards the European integrations, the efforts made to consolidate, at a central level, the Bosnian state and in getting close to EU and NATO could be undermined by some small perspective on getting to a social consensus and a consolidated partnerships with the civil society and citizens; these are truly necessary to achieve the integration objective of the Bosnian state in the European and Euroatlantic structures;
  • The consensus is vital for BIH, especially after the new strategy of the European Commission, regarding EU’s extension, offered the Bosnian state new hopes in getting the candidate statute soon, in starting the negotiations with EU and continuing the integration process;
  • Milorad Dodik will have an important role in the destabilizing process, given his strong connections with Russia. The victory of an anti-EU and anti-NATO nationalist candidate will be another obstacle for BIH’s accession process to these two organizations, which will contribute to causing a high-uncertainty level about Bosnian state’s future evolutions;
  • All of these aside, the North Atlantic Alliance will intensify its actions to stimulate BIH’s integration process into NATO and combating the lately negative positions developed by R. Srpska’s leaders in their attempt to block the accession process and to consolidate Russian Federation’s influence in BIH.
  • Republic of Macedonia
  • The agreement signed between Greece and R. Macedonia, on 17.06.2018, ends both states dispute and unlocks the accession process of the Macedonian state in European and Euroatlantic structures;
  • Skopje’s optimism will reach its highest level in 2019, the Macedonian institutions proving to have the credibility and capacities necessary to face region’s challenges, especially the security ones;
  • The Macedonian state will make significant efforts to spread the idea that it is a serious partner in the region and that it is Western Balkans’ only state which has the potential to accomplish the accession criteria until 2023, before Serbia and Montenegro, which would do it by 2025.


  • Montenegro
  • After years of economic crisis and extension’s tiredness, in 2019, Montenegro received from the European Commission the massage that it can access EU in 2025, together with Serbia. Brussels is trying to offer a new accession integration impulse for Western Balkans’ six entities. Additionally, in June 2018, the Montenegrin state after one year since accessing NATO, it became a stable and safe country;
  • Still, given that Russia and China have divergent interests in the region, Russia taking benefit of region’s destabilizing effects, and China of region’s stability, 2019 may met the increased influence from both international actors, complicating Montenegro’s efforts to accomplish the criteria necessary to end EU’s community acquis chapters, especially those approaching the political and economic field;
  • Given these circumstances, evaluating Montenegro’s situation as Alliance’s state member, two questions are to be asked:
  • Can EU combat Russia and China’s political and economic influences?
  • Will Montenegro’s EU integration be an external influence problem or it will be materialized through an official invitation when accomplishing all the conditions imposed for the accession?

As a result, one thing becomes very clear, namely that starting with 2019, the EU should address these two issues in a practical way as the accession process advances.

  • Albania
  • In June 2019, Albania will start the accession negotiations to EU, together with Republic of Macedonia, given the capacities and potential the institutions of the Albanian state, a NATO member state, have showed;
  • EU will continue to send clear signals that the reformation and promotions efforts of reconciliation, the development of good neighborhood relations and the political dialogue to solve the long-term issues have succeeded and created important progresses, which means that the Albanian leaders successfully applied the European values which got them closer to EU.
  • [1] The “Berlin Process” is a German diplomatic initiative regarding South-East Europe (created by Merkel’s Office) related to the future EU extension, which was created to consolidate and upkeep the dynamic of the integration process in European structures, given Euroscepticism’s increase. The “Berlin Process” is an intergovernmental cooperation initiative which aims to revitalize the multilateral relations between the Western Balkans and some EU member states and to improve the regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, regarding infrastructure and economy’s development.


As a conclusion, we can say that, given Russia’s increased interest to consolidate its position, in order to undermine and control Western Balkans’ access to EU and block NATO’s extension in the region, as well as the investments and development promises made by China and other Middle East actors, the area needs to get away from bureaucracy’s burden and get a more intense involvement from EU and the North-Atlantic Alliance in combining all the efforts to develop the cooperation with and between entities aiming for the integration.

While Russia will continue to state that it can offer an alternative to the Euroatlantic integration, EU and NATO will continue to reaffirm their extension commitment for the Western Balkans.

EU will continue to support many activities related to Western Balkans reform process. Approaching the reforms regarding the rule of law, human’s fundamental rights and the proper governance will remain the most important issues for Western Balkans’ regions and the main concerns for the international community.

The US seems to have understood that it must have a strategy for this and most likely, in 2019 it will assume a major role in promoting an equilibrium between the regional security, economic increase and responsible governance in Western Balkans’ entire region. Adopting such a stance could be the proper solution to combat region’s dispute, as well as to neutralize the negative influence of different external actors, whose objective is to upkeep a fragile stability in the region.


[2] GDP growth in the Western Balkans was 3% in 2017, 3.2% in 2018, projected to be 3.4% in 2019, with infrastructure investment going to be a key growth. In Albania and Kosovo, economic growth will be particularly high (on average about 3.8%), while in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia an average growth rate of around 3%

[3] At this summit, besides the 11 Eu member states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary), have participated also states from the Western Balkans, which are aiming to access EU (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia).