Rival Influences in the Western Balkans: Hard Facts and Limitations

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Couteau, B. “Rival Influences in the Western Balkans: Hard Facts and Limitations”, Brief, Jacques Delors Institute, November 2023

It is a long and winding road to the European Union. For the countries of the Western Balkans, which have been seeking to join for some twenty years, the length of the accession process — more than for any previous accession — has also had the perverse effect of facilitating the incursion of rival powers in the region, which is therefore paying a high price for its ‘non-accession’. Certain influences (notably Russia and China), bearing witness to the EU’s inability to welcome these countries as members, are attempting to compete with the European development model in the region, thereby hindering its integration into the EU.

Opponents of further EU enlargement are increasingly seizing upon this supposed fragility and permeability of the Western Balkans countries to third-party influences to stigmatise their applications for membership. Today it is attracting more attention than ever from the media, academic circles and think tanks, at the risk of developing, whether intentionally or not, a fantasised and exaggerated perception of local competition between external powers.

This competition may be fuelled by the sovereign will of the States in the region, which would see it as a way of defending their own interests, or may instead be a strategy of influence by the third powers concerned. In either case, it is necessary to identify the forces in play and their intentions, in particular for influences competing with the European model, and the various factors enabling their permeation, in order to support the Western Balkans in their integration into the European project in full compliance with EU requirements and with the strategic direction adopted by the region.