The Western Balkans as a Geopolitical Chessboard? Myths, Realities and Policy Options

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Publication Date June 2019
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The rationale of EU enlargement in the Western Balkans has been changing during the last couple of years. The consolidation of stability and the full implementation of liberal political and economic reforms are no longer the principal (or the sole) arguments cited to make the case for the region’s EU accession. European decision-makers have been increasingly claiming that the EU should move on to contain the negative influence in the Western Balkans of other external actors. Those actors’ engagement extends from economic investment, particularly in large-scale infrastructure, to political support for governments and  parties, as well as active media engagement. Beyond that, there has been more clandestine and covert engagement, often the subject of intense speculation. The EU considers itself involved, against its will, in a traditional geopolitical game of influence in a European periphery where its competitors allegedly strive to redefine the rules of the game, to the disadvantage of the Western Balkan region and the EU.

While the renewed EU interest in the Western Balkans is without doubt positive, it rests on several myths and misconceptions. Between the view of regional governments, who often perceive this plethora of external involvement as a boon to a region suffering from Western neglect and much reduced foreign investments following the global economic crisis, and the view that a sinister threat emanates from all engagement by non-Western actors, a more nuanced understanding has to emerge. This policy brief identifies these fallacies and articulates some policy recommendations.

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EurActiv, 24/06/2019: Turkey, Russia and China covet Western Balkans as EU puts enlargement on hold

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