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The Increasing Importance of the Western Balkans in Italian Foreign Policy

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The Western Balkans hold great importance for Italy, as well as for the European Union (EU), in terms of security, stability, trade, and transit routes. The Western Balkan countries consist of Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia. Additionally, the Western Balkans attract attention with their unstable structure shaped by chaos and crises.

In this context, the Roman administration strives to play a role in the integration process of the Western Balkans into the EU. Furthermore, Italy is attempting to pursue an active policy towards the region, influenced by its historical and cultural ties. Italy’s geographical location also enables it to pursue effective policies in the Balkans. Italy’s dominant position in the Adriatic Sea provides a significant opportunity for increasing its influence in the Balkans.

Overall, Italian foreign policy characterizes the Balkans as a key area for political, economic, and even cultural projection, traditionally dating back to its own political unity in the late 19th century. This situation has increasingly intertwined Italy’s and the Balkans’ history, even though it has been problematic at times. Therefore, Rome has always been a strong supporter of the Western Balkans’ integration process into the EU.[1] Because Italy considers that its national interests in the Western Balkans can be best protected if there is harmony between the region and Brussels.

The EU has also been pursuing a policy of trying to integrate the  region into the union for a long time. Since Germany and France are the two main actors of the  EU, Italy’s strategy towards  this region is often ignored. However, the  election of Giorgia Meloni as Prime Minister in Italy in October 2022 opened the door for Rome to produce more active policies towards  the region. In this context, it can be said that Italy gave more importance to the Western Balkans during the Meloni period.

On the other hand, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani stated on 30 November 2022 that the stabilization of the Western Balkans is important for peace and emphasized that the influence of the Russians in the said region should be stopped. In this context, Tajani also pointed out that Europe should pursue more active policies in the Western Balkans.[2] During the EU-Western Balkans Summit held  in Albania on 6 December 2022, Meloni expressed that the EU  has a great responsibility towards the countries of the region and underlined that he believes that the accession process of the countries in the region should be accelerated.[3]

As can be seen, the emphasis on the Western Balkans has increased in Italian foreign policy, particularly with Meloni. Decision-makers in Italy advocate for a more effective EU policy, especially for limiting Russian influence in the region.

In this context, the “Italy-Western Balkans Conference” was held in Trieste, hosted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 24, 2023, which is significant in demonstrating Rome’s importance attributed to the region. Tajani used the expression, “Balkans are an inevitable destiny for Italy.” within this framework.[4] Furthermore, Tajani emphasized the inseparable connection between Italy’s history, culture, and economy with the Western Balkans, and stressed the need for a common approach in facing various challenges, including the energy crisis and irregular migration.[5]

Meanwhile, Meloni, at the same conference, listed the EU’s enlargement towards the Western Balkans as an urgent priority, urging the development of a new vision for the union. She also stated that the Western Balkans hold strategic importance for Italy’s national interests, and summarized her government’s goal as “bringing more Italy to the Balkans.” Meloni highlighted the leading role of Italian companies as investors in the Western Balkans but also called for renewed investment in strategic sectors.[6]

First of  all, the choice of the city of  Trieste in the northeast of  Italy for the conference should not be considered as a coincidence. Trieste, one of the important port cities of the Adriatic,  is located in a very critical position in terms of ensuring Italy’s  connection with the Balkans. In this context, it should be underlined that Trieste has a symbolic meaning.

Secondly, it is seen that energy, economy and security dimensions come to the fore in Rome’s opening to the region. The Western Balkans, in particular, is a critical transit point for migration to  Europe. Italy, which is one of the countries with the toughest stance against irregular migration in the EU, aims to solve this problem by integrating the region into the union.

In addition, Italy is one of the largest investors and trading partners of the Western Balkan countries due  to its geographical proximity and historical ties.  The situation in question leads to a positive perception of the Roman administration by the countries of the region.

However, as can be seen from Meloni’s words, the Roman administration is uncomfortable with Brussels’ policy in the Western Balkans. The main premise of Meloni’s critique is that the process proceeds slowly. Italy, on the other hand, wants to play a leading role in the process of integration of the Western Balkans into the EU.

Additionly, Italy’s approach to the region is part of a larger political goal. In fact, Tajani referred to the term “Expanded Mediterranean” at the aforementioned conference.[7] Italy’s “Extended Mediterranean Strategy” can be summarized as follows:[8]

“Italy’s vision of the Mediterranean region, which encompasses not only the Mediterranean referred to as “Mare Nostrum” in history, but also the Maghreb (Northwest Africa region) between the Persian Gulf, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea, the Sahel region (from the Sahara in the north to Sudan in the south), the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East, is part of its geopolitical vision.”

Therefore, the Western Balkans have an important place in Italy’s “Extended Mediterranean Strategy”. In other words, the region is crucial for Rome to achieve its larger geopolitical goals.

As a result, the governments in Italy have always attached foremost importance to the country’s policy in the Western Balkans. However, the Western Balkans gained more weight in Italian foreign policy during Meloni’s premiership. Therefore, it can be foreseen that Italy will continue its active policy towards the region in the future.


[1] Andrea Frontini, “A View From Italy: Back to the Balkans?”, Italian Institute for International Political Studies, https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/view-italy-back-balkans-17194, (Date of Accession: 10.02.2023).

[2] “Europe Needs to Limit Russian Influence in Balkans, Italy Says”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/europe-needs-limit-russian-influence-balkans-italy-says-2022-11-30/, (Date of Accession: 10.02.2023).

[3] “We Have Great Responsibility for Western Balkans-Meloni”, ANSA https://www.ansa.it/english/news/politics/2022/12/06/we-have-great-responsibility-for-western-balkans-meloni_e63c14ff-b2a2-4fcc-ae12-18ba800b703e.html, (Date of Accession: 10.02.2023).

[4] “The Balkans is Italy’s Inevitable Destiny”, CdM, https://www.cdm.me/english/the-balkans-is-italys-inevitable-destiny/, (Date of Accession: 10.02.2023).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Meloni: “The Balkans Are Strategic For Our Country, We Want to Bring More Italy to The Region”, Nova News, https://www.agenzianova.com/en/news/melons-the-balkans-are-strategic-for-our-country-we-want-to-bring-more-italy-to-the-region/, (Date of Accession: 10.02.2023).

[7] Fabio Bego, “Italy Seeks Higher Profile Role in Western Balkans”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2023/01/30/italy-seeks-higher-profile-role-in-western-balkans/, (Date of Accession: 10.02.2023).

[8] Ferhan Oral, Meloni Hükümeti ve İtalya’nın Geniş Akdeniz Stratejisi, ANKASAM, https://www.ankasam.org/meloni-hukumeti-ve-italyanin-genis-akdeniz-stratejisi/, (Date of Accession: 10.02.2023).

Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege ÖZKAN
Cemal Ege Özkan, 2019 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2022 senesinde aynı üniversitenin Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Türk Siyasi Hayatında Selim Rauf Sarper ve Faaliyetleri” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Hâlihazırda aynı enstitüde doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. 2020-2021 yılları arasında Türk Tarih Kurumu Yüksek Lisans Bursiyeri olan Özkan, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.