Politico: EU courts Serbia to diminish Russian and Chinese influence

The ongoing EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana, Albania, has shown that the EU has realized that failing to be the best partner to the region comes with a high geopolitical price to pay.

In its article about the summit, Politico speaks about the difficulties that the EU had to face when putting the summit together as there was fear that not all Western Balkan countries would agree to participate in it. Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, was one of the leaders who was hesitant to take part in the summit.

Politico also reports that “All six non-EU attendees — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are at different stages in their bids to join the bloc. And they’re united in one regard — frustration with the slow pace of their journey. The enlargement process has effectively stalled since Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007, with many western members lamenting that recent joiners like Hungary and Poland are simply flouting EU standards on rule of law and democracy.”

Politico goes on to say that “Russia’s attempt to conquer Ukraine has breathed new life into EU expansion, refocusing Europe’s attention on its own backyard. One realization: The reluctance to expand east has growing geopolitical consequences, creating a vacuum that Russia and China are already moving to fill. “

The strong historical and political ties between the region (particularly Serbia) and Russia are also one of the reasons why the EU wants to re-establish its strong influence in the Balkans.

There is also the matter of China’s influence in Serbia too. Politico writes:” China’s activity in the region is also a growing concern for the EU amid a reassessment of the bloc’s relationship with the world’s second-largest economy. In recent years, Beijing has made inroads in the Western Balkans under its massive Belt and Road investment program, offering an attractive alternative to countries tired of waiting in the EU wings. Evidence of China’s deep pockets is scattered around the Western Balkans. In Serbia, China Rail International (CRI) and the China Communications Construction Company began work on the €1 billion Belgrade-Budapest railway last year, while China’s Hesteel Group acquired Serbian iron producer Zelezara Smederevo in 2016.”

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) estimates that China has been involved in 136 major regional projects, amounting to over €32 billion between 2009 and 2021.

The attempt to diminish both the Chinese and Russian influence was reflected in the summit’s programme with one of the topics focusing on “fighting foreign information manipulation and improving cybersecurity, amid growing awareness that the EU is losing the communications battles when it comes to selling its story to Western Balkan countries. “

“Kremlin-aligned media like Russia’s Sputnik have helped drive a pro-Russian narrative in the region. Drowned out is the EU’s attempt to convey that it is by far the region’s biggest investor and trade partner, responsible for about 70 percent of the Western Balkans’ trade”, Politico writes.

A public opinion survey conducted this past summer showed that 51 percent of people in Serbia would vote against EU membership in a referendum, while 40 percent of respondents rated Russian leader Vladimir Putin highly.

Also, the summit participants will discuss the EU’s new common purchasing platform for gas, meant to lower sky-high prices. The mechanism has been opened to Western Balkans members to help lure them away from Russian fossil fuel. But Brussels will also want something in return. 

“Alignment with Europe’s foreign and security policy is among the key objectives of Tuesday’s meeting,” Politico concludes.

(Blic, 07.12.2022)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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