After the conclusion of the wars in former Yugoslavia, the Balkans and former Yugoslav republics entered the new phase characterized by relative stability, predominantly owing to the international presence in the region. Both international actors and the local elites were committed to Euro-Atlantic integration and regional cooperation. The EU policy towards the Balkans and the Big Bang enlargement of 2003-2004 made the accession of former Yugoslav republics a plausible reality, especially after the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003. However, according to the authors, since 2006 global, European and regional trends have changed.
Geopolitics has returned in the Balkans, worryingly, during the period of the Western “retreat” from the region. Even though the local elites are nominally committed to EU integration, the question concerning NATO integration causes cleavages in the Balkan countries and their public opinion and amid this internal fracturing, Russia is committed to dismantling the Euro-Atlantic integration of the remaining non-NATO states in the region.
On the other hand, elites have used this geopolitical shift for their own benefit. They do pay lip service to European integration, but have abandoned their commitment to substantive political and economic reforms in the region.
Finally, Europe as a whole is in the midst of a transition that the authors describe as historical. Even though Brussels is rhetorically committed to the Balkans and its integration, Migrant crisis, “a chauvinist backlash” at home, Brexit and overall fatigue make the whole process somewhat uncertain.
The authors completed the paper with a quite concerned statement saying that – “if Europe’s liberal democrats do not quickly devise a plan B for the Balkans, we can be quite sure that our opponents will. And their plan will not merely transform the continent’s southeast for the worse – but Europe as a whole”.
Original paper read here: [BSF Paper] “Realpolicy” in the Balkans: Reanimating Democratization and the European project