“Russia and China are systematically looking for weak points in the international structure in order to exploit them for their imperial and hegemonic ambitions. In doing so, they have also stumbled upon the Western Balkans. And this fundamentally changes the situation in the Western Balkans.”
By Reinhard Bütikofer, @bueti ,
Brussels, 02 November 2023, dtt-net.com – That there is concern in the EU about developments in the Western Balkans can be seen from who is currently engaged with the region. In the margins of the EUCO at the end of October, together with High Representative Josep Borrell and Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak, Council President Charles Michel, President Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met with the Serbian President and the Prime Minister of Kosovo. Shortly afterwards, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen travelled to the Western Balkans. This is a lot of effort, considering how many other crises still require attention and practical action.
The current frenzy contrasts sharply with the neglect with which the EU has plagued the countries of the Western Balkans over the years.
Stalled membership process
The assertion that all six countries, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, would one day surely find their place in the EU was repeated so often over the decades that even the last one realised: It was less a promise than an euphemistic excuse.
Accession negotiations were not started or de facto put on the back burner. Future accessions were made conditional on internal EU reforms, which were never seriously addressed. On the part of the EU, the idea prevailed that there was no hurry with the prospect of accession; after all, in the long run there was no attractive alternative to EU membership for any of the countries concerned.
But hope can become stale. Hundreds of thousands of young people from the Western Balkans were unwilling to waste their best years in seemingly fruitless waiting. So they set out and chose to join the EU individually. Meanwhile, back home, politicians, bureaucrats and others learned how to respond to the endless stretching of accession horizons with the endless stretching of reform horizons, exploiting the status quo to look after their own advantage. Nationalist narratives, each of them looking back on overly proud pasts, gained new strength because the post-nationalist future was too long in coming.
The fact that this whole malaise cannot simply continue to fester has, however, been brought about by the great geo-strategic upheaval that all of Europe, both the EU and the Western Balkans, are facing and of which we are becoming increasingly aware.
Russia, China and Serbian nationalism
Russia and China have set out to fight, in close strategic coordination and in concert with other authoritarian regimes, for the emergence of a new world order that replaces multilateralism with multi-polarity, international rule of law with the time-honoured law of the strongest, human rights orientation with systems of servitude. All this is now openly anti-Western and packaged with the propaganda that the new authoritarian International of Dictators will finally ensure the rise of the poorer countries of the so-called Global South, long exploited by colonialism.
Russia and China are systematically looking for weak points in the international structure in order to exploit them for their imperial and hegemonic ambitions. In doing so, they have also stumbled upon the Western Balkans. And this fundamentally changes the situation in the Western Balkans.
Greater Serbian nationalism has become the gateway for Russian and Chinese interference in the Western Balkans. In the Milosevic version, the Serbian claim to supremacy succumbed to the EU- and US-backed will for self-determination of the smaller peoples of the Western Balkans more than twenty years ago. At that time, neither Moscow nor Beijing were available as a hinterland. Today, however, in the Vucic version, Serbian nationalism is gaining new aggressive strength because it can rely on backing from Russia and China.
When Vucic says about the future path of his own country that the heart is in Moscow, but the mind is in Brussels, we should not misunderstand this as an announcement of a seesaw policy. In fact, the Serbian president wants to use his Brussels pretension to make Brussels pay for the realisation of his anti-European heart’s desires.
Greater Serbian nationalism is currently destabilising the Western Balkans on a grand scale.
In Bosnia & Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik ( the President of the Republic of Srpska) is up to his mischief. In Kosovo, Belgrade is fuelling tensions by promoting separatist and even terrorist forces. Montenegro’s independence and own path are also being questioned.
Without understanding and addressing Serbian nationalism as an opponent of EU integration of the Western Balkans, the stagnation caused by decades of irresponsible EU dithering will turn into a bloody quagmire.
Appeasement on Serbia, sanctions on Kosovo
In view of this situation, the EU’s current Western Balkans policy is as lopsided as it gets. Appeasement towards Dodik, appeasement towards Vucic. Kosovo gets the boot. Instead of reacting appropriately to the obvious Serbian provocations against Kosovo, the EU sanctions Kosovo. Serbian attacks on KFOR; the abduction of three Kosovar policemen to Serbia; support for a highly armed terrorist attack in northern Kosovo and the proclamation of Serbian national mourning for three terrorists killed in the process; these are only the grossest transgressions. But so far, the EU has not been willing to get tough on Vucic and his friends from organized crime. This cannot go well.
In its last plenary session, the European Parliament adopted by a large majority a clear position statement on the Serbia-Kosovo conflict, which calls for a new EU policy approach.
Whether this is possible with the discredited triumvirate Borrell-Lajcak-Oliver Varhelyi (the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement) is highly doubtful. And the policy represented by the U.S. ambassador to Serbia also stands in the way. But a turnaround is needed.
Serbia must be given a choice: Brussels or Moscow. Welcome in the one case, but no more smooching around in the other. For all other five countries, the goal must be to clearly envisage an accession date: 2030.
Reinhard Hans Bütikofer is a German politician member of the European Parliament since 2009. He is a member of the Alliance 90/The Greens, part of the European Green Party.
This opinion of his is written exclusively for dtt-net.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com .