Borrell will face centrifugal forces in the Balkans

Balkans countries are likely happy with all the attention they have received in recent weeks. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative-designate for foreign affairs and security policy, commented that the region would be one of the focal points of his tenure, promising that his first official visit would be to Pristina. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Macedonia and Montenegro, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted with a red-carpet ceremony in Belgrade. So, what’s all the fuss about?

The truth is that the EU has been stuck in the Western Balkans for a while now, ever since it transpired that enlargement – as a goal, not a process – would be put on hold for the foreseeable future. The nomination of former Hungarian justice minister László Trócsányi as the European commissioner for enlargement negotiations – despite the fact that he is partly responsible for attacks on the rule of law in Hungary under his boss, Viktor Orbán – was never going to appeal to many European leaders. Hence the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs’ rejection of Trócsányi’s candidacy.

The new Hungarian candidate, career diplomat Olivér Várhelyi, is seemingly less controversial – but the core problem remains. The representative of a de facto autocratic state that constantly contests the European community of values can hardly be a credible advocate for democracy in the Balkans. Indeed, many fear that the Hungarian commissioner will promote Orbán’s governance model among Balkan elites – who are already tempted to over-centralise power through control of the media and the economy.

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(Photo: European Parliament)



Vessela Tcherneva

Vessela Tcherneva is deputy director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and head of ECFR’s Sofia office. Her topics of focus include EU foreign policy and the Western Balkans and Black Sea region. Between January and July 2022, she held the position of Foreign Policy Advisor to the Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. From 2010 to 2013, she was the spokesperson for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov’s political cabinet. Previously, she was secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and former German President Richard von Weizsäcker; supervising editor of the Foreign Policy Bulgaria magazine; and political officer at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, DC. Tcherneva holds an MA in Political Science from the Rhienische Friedrich-Wilhelm Universität in Bonn.