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The European Union’s “Western Balkans Test”

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The European Union (EU) has accelerated its economic and social integration efforts. One of the most important outcomes of this effort is the Western Balkans initiative. The struggle for influence in the Western Balkans and the fact that the region is politically seen as part of Europe makes this effort understandable. The aforementioned opening is seen as a geopolitical project rather than an institutional process. Therefore, the geopolitical equation shaped over Kosovo-Serbia increases the EU’s interest in the region and, in addition, accelerates the process of removing obstacles to European integration.

Brussels is oriented towards an enlargement policy. Despite the different approaches of European actors and all their ontological problems, the EU aims to unify the entire continent under the umbrella of the EU. Although there are differences in the orientations of the regional actors due to the power struggle, the EU, as a center of attraction, is taking some initiatives and striving for a common line and struggling to eliminate possible threats. In this way, European security will be ensured.

AB’nin kurumsal tarihine bakıldığında ekonomik saiklerle ortaya çıktığı ve devletlerin kazanımları nedeniyle farklı konuları da kapsadığı görülmektedir. Bu yüzden Avrupalı aktörler kazanımlarını korumayı ve hatta arttırmayı hedeflemektedirler. Bu devletler, kendilerini doğrudan etkileyebilecek risklerin önlenmesinde Brüksel’i bir çatı olarak görmektedir. Bu çerçevede AB, jeopolitik bir proje olarak Batı Balkanlar’a yönelik genişleme politikasını sürdürmektedir. Ancak bu genişlemede Kosova-Sırbistan üzerinden şekillenen ciddi bir sınavla karşı karşıyadır. İki aktör arasındaki münasebetlerin özellikle küresel güçler arasında bir nüfuz yarışı olarak algılanması, durumun mahiyetini ortaya koymaktadır.

As the global system evolves towards a polycentric structure, strategic middle powers on the one hand and global actors on the other are turning towards various collaborations. At this point, the relations between Russia and Serbia should be emphasized. Although Serbia does not have a global influence, it is a strategic middle power in the Balkans and therefore an influential actor in the foreign policies of global actors. Russia, on the other hand, has shown that it is a dominant global actor with its aggression in Georgia in 2008, Crimea in 2014 and Ukraine since 2022.

After all, the Kremlin’s resistance to Western hegemony is evident. From this point of view, a conflict over Serbia could mean a conjuncture for Russia to expand its sphere of influence, as it has the potential to directly affect Europe as well as the region. Therefore, Brussels aims to prevent this situation. In this framework, Brussels’ steps are likely to accelerate. In particular, Oliver Varhei, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, has called for accelerated enlargement due to the geopolitical situation.[1]

The tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have a structural and historical background. However, it is clear that the EU wants to resolve the tensions. It can be argued that the EU has assumed the role of mediator and has increased the pressure while offering incentives to the parties.

At this point, it can be argued that the tensions between the two actors directly affected relations with Brussels. Pristina’s approach to the Union of Serbian Municipalities, which is envisaged for the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations, has created a conjuncture to its detriment. Therefore, Serbia has gained an advantage in relations with the West. However, there are question marks regarding this advantage of Serbia. These question marks stem from allegations that the attack on September 24, 2023 was linked to Serbia. Indeed, the European Parliament’s decision to take measures against Belgrade in the event that Serbia is found to be directly involved in the attack in Banjska proves Brussels’ approach. [2]

One of the issues to be emphasized in the Brussels-Kosovo-Serbia equation is economic motivations. It is clear that economic relations are one of the factors that the EU attaches importance to in addition to factors such as the European integration goal and security concerns. With the Russia-Ukraine War that started in 2022, the actors mutually imposed sanctions. At this point, if an outcome that Brussels does not want comes out of Kosovo-Serbia, both the south and the east of the EU will appear as a conflict zone and this will negatively affect the EU economy. Based on all these, it can be argued that economic motivations are the main driving force behind Brussels’ opening towards the Western Balkans.

Ultimately, it would be useful to see Brussels’ approach to Kosovo and Serbia’s EU membership as a long process with economic priorities. This is evidenced by the statement of Miroslav Lajcak, the EU Special Envoy for the Dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, [3] that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be used in reference to the Western Balkan countries. In sum, it can be argued that Brussels will prioritize integration into the common market over membership for both actors. Neither Belgrade nor Pristina seems to be ready for this candidacy status. At this point, it can be argued that the EU wants to ensure economic sustainability on the one hand and not to alienate the parties on the other.

In conclusion, the EU aims to expand to the Western Balkans. Brussels’ expansion to the Western Balkans can be seen as a geopolitical project rather than an institutional process. It can be argued that Brussels pays particular attention to Belgrade-Pristina relations in order to prevent Russia from gaining room for maneuver, to address its security concerns and to expand its sphere of influence. Although there is an effort to speed up the process, it is clear that both actors are weak in meeting EU standards. As an incentive for Kosovo and Serbia not to distance themselves from the West and to avoid an increased risk of conflict, the process could take the form of integration into the EU single market rather than candidacy. Brussels’ attitude towards the parties is influenced by the approach of both actors towards the EU and its criteria.


[1] “Вархеји смета дека лидерите на ЕУ јасно ја потврдија перспективата за членство на Западен Балкан”, Slobodenpecat, https://www.slobodenpecat.mk/varheji-smeta-deka-liderite-na-eu-jasno-ja-potvrdija-perspektivata-za-chlenstvo-na-zapaden-balkan/, (Erişim Tarihi: 12.10.2023).

[2] “Evropski parlament usvojio rezoluciju o Kosovu i Srbiji”, Aljazeera, https://balkans.aljazeera.net/news/balkan/2023/10/19/evropski-parlament-usvojio-rezoluciju-o-kosovu-i-srbiji, (Erişim Tarihi: 19.10.2023).

[3] “Lajčak: Vrijeme da države Zapadnog Balkana napreduju ka EU”, Aljazeera, https://balkans.aljazeera.net/news/balkan/2023/10/9/lajcak-vrijeme-da-drzave-zapadnog-balkana-napreduju-ka-eu, (Erişim Tarihi: 09.10.2023).