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 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.