18 November 2019

The EU requests increased resiliency for Western Balkans state. The answer is still expected

Stelian Teodorescu

As a new international security environment is remodelled and defined, the world’s new geopolitical map is also shaping, with international actors rethinking their stances according to the new economic, social-cultural, political and ideological realities, but also to security ones. The Western Balkans have an increasingly important role in the new global security architecture, and the analysis of the geopolitical environment in this region highlights security challenges, which equally concern the entities in the area and the entire international community.

Image source: Mediafax

The main security challenges

The region is facing a long series of historical, ethnical, economic problems which have remained unsolved, and this encumbers the future of states in the region:

  • The delay in identifying viable long-term solutions for the Serbia-Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) cases favours the extension of political, military and social instability, while also increasing the probability of social incidents and open conflicts;
  • Maintaining a low authority of state institutions allows for the development of transnational organized crime agencies, extremist and xenophobic groups, easy access to firearms and an increase of their illegal trafficking, as well as the development of a migratory flux which is very hard to manage;
  • The demographic impact, the fragile economic stability, the imbalance on the interior workforce market and the rapid growth of energy consumption needs generates a tough competition between international actors with potential in this field, which has a major impact on local economies and maintains unbalanced levels of consumption in the region
  • The appearance of the so-called “hybrid threats”, which are non-traditional threats which are very unpredictable for entities in the region and their defence structures, especially with regards to their own populations, but also to their own armed forces.

In such a very complex context, the EU and NATO play an important role in supporting reforms and transition in the political, social, military and security fields in the Western Balkans, and have an important role in the European and Euro-Atlantic integration process of the entities in the region. While the latter objective was achieved by some of the Western Balkans entities, others remain outside one or both organizations, with perspectives that are more or less

The state of the Western Balkans entities’ integration into the EU

A credible integration policy for Western Balkans entities is the key element of the EU’s Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy, aiming to develop the region economically and consolidate peace and stability. By conditioning the integration process and placing an emphasis on the developing a powerful regional cooperation, the EU wants to create and consolidate a political and security environment which would contribute to solving the still-existing bilateral problems between entities in the region. The EU’s support and cooperation with its partners in the region bring actual benefits such as stimulating economic development, improving the act of government and respecting the principles of the rule of law, consolidating good neighbourhood relations and developing cooperation within the region.

In this context, a series of stages have been carried out until now, most of the times in a slower rhythm than the EU was expecting or with differing speeds for each entity in the region. Shortly, these evolutions are:

  • The enactment of the stabilization and association agreements for all the six Western Balkans entities;

 

  • Achieving visible progress in accession negotiations with Montenegro, which is also a NATO member state (32 open chapters, three closed provisionally), even if Belgrade declared its military neutrality and is developing relations with Russia at an alert pace;

 

  • The European Council establishing in June 2018 a way to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, based on the progresses they achieved and the tangible results by the two entities, initially scheduled to begin in June 2019, but later postponed for October 2019;

 

  • North Macedonia enacting the EU’s reform agenda and achieving more solid and durable progresses in this regard, with the signing and enactment of the Prespa agreement offering an example of reconciliation for the entire region;

 

  • Albania consolidating its achievements in the fields of the rule of law, which include a judicial reform with tangible results, but also increased attention for the fight against organized crime;

 

  • The European Commission preparing a review on BIH, based on which the European Council will decide the following stages of the country’s integration process;

 

  • Pristina’s enactment of the stabilization and association agreement in 2016, and the related European reform agenda. In July 2018, the Commission confirmed that all reference points for liberalizing visas were achieved.

On 06.0.2018, the EU adopted its Strategy for the Western Balkans, and drafted an action plan which puts an emphasis on granting support and developing the collaboration with regards to fighting common threats, including terrorism, organized crime and weapons trafficking.

The EU’s intention is to encourage the development of resiliency for Western Balkans entities, with all the actions that were planned and carried out in this regard being in service to the objective of the developing the EU’s own resilience.

The resilience of Western Balkans entities, a major challenge and priority in the region’s integration process

Global challenges have amplified and, at the same time, suffered changes in the way they manifest. In these conditions, the dynamics of the turbulence which manifests in the political, economic, defence and security environments, as well as the frail stability in the Western Balkans, both suggest that resilience of state entities and societies in the region remains a very current subject for the international community.

Therefore, one of the EU’s main objectives is to build and develop resiliency in its neighbourhood in order to discourage and efficiently manage political, economic and security crises.

European and Euro-Atlantic structures, the key to consolidating the resiliency of Western Balkans entities

The EU was and will remain the key to the Western Balkans transformation and stability, especially if we take into account the fact that NATO does not enjoy the same appreciation in the entire region. Starting with Thessaloniki, in 2003, the EU promised that it will integrate Western Balkans states if they conform to the established accession criteria, which are more thorough compared to previous extensions.

The EU is one of the entities which supported aid for fragile states, allowing these to individually approach their vulnerabilities in various areas in order to assess their capabilities of resistance to shocks, damaging situations and potential or real crises. This strategy does not mean, however, that it supported authoritarianism, as the resilience of state institutions and society are two issues which cannot be separated.

The EU and NATO have invested and will continue to significantly invest into the development of the resilience of their Western Balkans partners, in areas such as the rule of law, energy, critical infrastructure, cybernetics, strategic communications and reform, as well as in consolidating the sectors related to security and defence. In the Western Balkans, the EU has directly committed to consolidating resilience in areas such as economic development, employment and connectivity.

The promise of the region’s eventual integration into the EU has been reiterated several times but, despite this, the current context of the extension became less favourable, as the EU is also concerned with multiple internal challenges generated by the rise of Euroscepticism and the anti-migration attitude.

Therefore, the following question emerged lately: would recognizing a high level of integration for Western Balkans citizens in the EU and NATO contribute to the growth of their individual resiliency, as well as that of the entire region? Taking into account the dynamics of recent evolutions, we can state that the answer is not very clear yet, because this process has consolidated both the motivation for reform in the Western Balkans, as well as the launch of some more aggressive actions from Russia and more incisive ones from China. The Western Balkans’ experience explicitly offers the image of mixed results and consequences, and it is very visible that entities in the regional have radically different evolutions and are facing a vast diversity of geopolitical pressures.

Currently, the actions of EU and NATO in influencing the defence and security resiliency of Western Balkans entities seem to be in conflict with the influence of other important international actors such as Russia and China, but also pose certain limitations because the disagreements between EU and NATO member states with regards to status of some of the entities in the region.

In the current Western Balkans context, it is necessary to take into account various dimensions of resiliency which can be achieved when planning actions to support entities which are developing in this geopolitical environment: the interests of Russia, China, Turkey and other actors in the Middle East, as well as the burden brought by the legacy of a totalitarian, conflictual past, the persistence of ethnic and religious tensions, the existence of a centralized economy, a high level of poverty, weak institutions and a democracy which is still not consolidated.

Proactive and efficient policies, political commitment and a more intelligent allocation of resources are needed to promote the consolidation of resiliency in the Western Balkans. The EU and NATO must draft policies adapted to the specifics and needs of each state in the region, with security being only one of the common concerns. Supporting cooperation between all the entities must become a priority for both the EU and NATO, as the engagement of all the actors who have a significant potential to promote democratic development is important for the process.

Translated by Ionut Preda