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Geostrategic competition for the EU in the Western Balkans

Geostrategic Competition for the EU in the Western Balkans - The internal and external Policy Orientations of the Western Balkan States, Influence of the EU and its Geostrategic Competitors

The Western Balkans are of high geostrategic importance for the European Union. Since the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars of the 1990s, the EU, together with NATO, has played a crucial role in stabilising the Western Balkans. Both organisations have welcomed individual Balkan states and maintain even larger civilian missions and a limited military presence in other states. However, in the face of persistent obstacles to transformation and reform, the six non-EU states of the Western Balkans are – to varying degrees – still far from accession to the EU. Due to internal EU opposition to the admission of further member states, the prospect of accession has also lost credibility and thus its driving force for reforms.

At the same time, geostrategic competition for influence in the Western Balkans is growing: other geostrategic actors, such as Russia, China and Turkey, but also the USA, are expanding their presence in the region, exploiting economic relations, foreign and security policy cooperation and also political vectors of influence and corruption to strengthen their position in the region vis-à-vis the EU. The different internal developments in the countries of the Western Balkans are also decisive for how closely political actors are willing to cooperate with the EU, turn towards other geostrategic actors or play them and the EU off against each other. In the context of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, geostrategic competition in the Western Balkans has increased even further as the EU struggles to revive the accession processes.

In view of these developments, the project has the following objectives:

  • To strengthen expertise on the internal and external policy orientation of the Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia) where the EU competes with other geostrategic actors for influence.
  • To survey and analyse the interconnectedness and influence vectors of the EU and other geostrategic actors in the six countries. This is to be done in three fields: 1. foreign and security policy cooperation, 2. economic relations, 3. democratic and rule-of-law standards in domestic policy.
  • To formulate recommendations for the EU on how to strengthen its ties with the six Western Balkan countries.

Project duration: 08/2022–12/2023

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