What Europe can do for the Western Balkans

Written by on October 14, 2017 in Perspectives - Comments Off on What Europe can do for the Western Balkans

The Balkans are not as exciting as they once were. The large-scale violence that made the region a central concern of European policy in the 1990s is no longer a feature of Balkan politics.

That’s progress, of course. But the absence of violence does not mean an absence of problems. Persistent economic weakness, growing public frustration with leaders, and renewed ethnic tensions have created a volatile mix beneath the surface calm. As Europe’s attention to these issues wavered, outside actors – most notably Russia, but also Turkey and China, began to assert themselves. If the European Union wants to maintain stability and influence in its own troubled backyard, it will need to re-engage with the Balkans.

EU accession should remain an important part of European engagement. But given the acute problems in the region and the slow pace of enlargement, the EU needs to take immediate, concrete steps that can make a difference for the local publics and change negative dynamics in the region.  This should include increasing its investment in Balkan economies, improving its technical assistance to Balkan governments and, most importantly, holding Balkan leaders to higher political standards.

To continue reading, please visit the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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About the Author

Vessela Tcherneva is the head of ECFR’s Wider Europe programme and a senior policy fellow at ECFR. She is the co-founder of Sofia Platform, a venue for dialogue between members of NGOs, the media, and politics from Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. From 2010 to 2013 she was the spokesperson for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the political cabinet of Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov.She has been the head of the Bulgarian office of the European Council for Foreign Relations since 2003, as well as programme director for Foreign Policy Studies at the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia.Between 2004 and 2006 she was secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato. She has been a supervising editor for Foreign Policy – Bulgaria magazine since its launch in 2005.