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EWB Interview, Antonio Missiroli: Main security challenges for the EU cannot be solved without the Balkans

During the Belgrade Security Forum we talked with Antonio Missiroli, Director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies and a participant of the panel ”The New European Security Strategy: EU in a global world and its transatlantic partners”.

When asked about the importance of the Western Balkans region for European security, Missiroli recalled that the “crisis in the Western Balkans during the 1990s had instigated the creation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy in the first place”. Moreover, he pointed out that the “recent developments have shown the necessity of cooperation between the EU and Western Balkans in tackling some of the current challenges.” Missiroli stated that “If you read the recently released EU Global Strategy, there is an important section which clearly states that all the main challenges the EU is confronted with today are important for the Balkans as well, and moreover, cannot be solved without the Balkans. Therefore, this commonality of interest requires the EU to retailor some approaches to the region and be more inclusive. That does not necessarily imply speeding up the enlargement process, but retailoring a number of policies and increasing cooperation, in order to achieve a win-win situation for both sides”, said Missiroli.

Regarding the main security challenges in the region, Missiroli highlighted that Western Balkans is in a peculiar situation of being affected by two types of destabilization, one coming from Russia and the other from radical Islamism. “There is a need to identify the best ways to deal with these issues, knowing that the traditional distinction between the internal and external has been blurred with the use of mass media and social media. Energy security, and in relation with it climate policies and connectivity, represents another common challenge that needs further addressing”, Missiroli stressed. He underscored that it is relevant for the EU to reconsider certain policies in order to achieve better impact and results tangible and visible for the people in the region.

When it comes to the threat of radicalization in the region and ways of preventing it, Missiroli emphasized that counterterrorism has been increasingly seen as a multifaceted policy both at the national and the international level. Namely, “terrorism cannot be countered solely by engaging police and military means, but also by using communication, countering narratives and re-messaging.  Intelligence cooperation is an important element as well, since it is crucial to be able to spot potential threats early on, and intervene to prevent it from happening. This requires trust from all sides and therefore “security sector reforms in the region cannot seem be more important.” Missiroli also states that it is difficult to gain victory against terrorism for a number of reasons and one of them is that “you do not want to make it public that you prevented terrorism, because it increases the public awareness of the risk.”

Regarding the importance of NATO integration of Western Balkan countries, Missiroli said that “it is undeniable that, with a possible exception of Serbia for historical reasons, it is easier in geopolitical terms for Western Balkans countries to join NATO then to join the EU”. According to him, the NATO integration process is less overarching, since it does not affect much national legislation or the economic system and does not require deeper reforms in relation to the EU. “Therefore, to some extent it has a faster deliverance and it is an important signal of belonging to the West for Western leaders.” However, according to Missiroli, “Western Balkans countries and NATO as a whole are confronted with unprecedented activism from Moscow who aims to destabilize the West by using soft power. NATO doesn’t have a mandate or a ‘magic wand’ to deal with this kind of issues.”

Asked about what strategy NATO and the EU should use to promote their values in the Western Balkans and how to counter the narratives that Russia and Turkey are creating, Missiroli says: “We published the recent report that analyzes the recent situation in Western Balkans. It is about being able to, first thing that NATO and EU cannot do – going low. If there is a lie, we cannot respond with a lie. If there is a distortion of facts, we cannot reply with distortion of facts. That is not in line with our values and our practices. But we can clarify facts, we can present fact checking and show that certain lies are lies.” Missiroli also thinks that there is a shortage of knowledge about the EU and that this issue also needs to be tackled. “The EU should present more personal success stories and not just facts and figures.”

Nikola Burazer and Marija Ignjatijević, EWB Belgrade

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