The European Union no longer offers a convincing prospect of enlargement in the Balkans, which diminishes the Western influence and strengthens the influence of other countries, reports the Swiss newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Only a week after the EU rejected to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia because of the French veto, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic signed a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union on behalf of Serbia.
The newspaper also notes that there is no doubt that “the EU and the West have significantly lost their trust and potential to exert influence in the Balkans” and this has allowed greater influence from Russia, China and Turkey.
The article goes on to say that Russia is still the most popular country among the Orthodox nations and that it presents itself as “guardian of conservative values and a counterweight to the decadent West”, that Turkey is closely affiliated to the Muslims living in the Balkan region, that Turkish Airlines has a better connection to the region than any other carrier and that Turkish soap operas are extremely popular. There is also China, which acts primarily as an investor.
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“The strengthening of the influence of these countries is brimming with real risks for the Balkans. Moscow is struggling against the growing Western influence in the region, particularly the influence of NATO. Russia is able to exploit the historical demarcation lines and latent instability of the region (…) while Ankara is, in a sense, “exporting its concept of the rule of law and is increasingly demanding in seeking assistance to prosecute the government’s opponents (…) Finally, large-scale projects funded by China, often through corruption, have the potential to undermine the rule of law”.
However, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung doubts that the Balkan countries will turn completely to Moscow or Ankara, noting that their external trade with Russia makes only 6% of the total external trade, while the trade with the European Union stands at 73.5%.
It is also stated that the vast majority of the population aspires to the Western way of life, which is also evident in the fact that the people of these countries are increasingly emigrating to the Western countries, not Russia, and that even in Serbia, traditionally a friend fo Russia, 45% of the population favours the European Union and only 17% favours EU membership in which Russia is dominant.
The Swiss newspaper also points out that Moscow, Ankara and Beijing do not act together but have different interests in the Balkans.
“But even if it does not face strong competition from the East, segments of the local population in the Balkans who would like to modernize and democratize their countries are starting not to favour the West. In the future, it will be even more difficult to promote values such as the rule of law, democracy and a liberal market economy, which actually lead to the long-term stabilization of the region severely affected by the conflicts in Europe,” the Neue Zürcher Zeitung adds.
(Novi Magazin, 30.10.2019)
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