2022 EU- Western Balkans: End of era of ‘courtship’ of the West

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. Following the organization of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana on 6 December 2022, IFIMES made an analysis of the current political situation in the Western Balkans. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis titled “2022 EU- Western Balkans: End of era of ‘courtship’ of the West”. 

2022 EU- Western Balkans:


End of era of “courtship” of the West


The European Union (EU) - Western Balkans Countries summit[2]was organized on 6 December in Tirana. It was an opportunity to discuss joint resolution of the issues that emerged as a consequence of the Russian invasion on Ukraine, intensification of the political dialogue and the enlargement policy, as well as strengthening of the security and building resilience to foreign interference, resolution of challenges posed by migration, fight against terrorism and organized crime. The summit was organized two months after the informal summit of member countries of the European Political Community in Prague, at which all European countries except for Russia and Belarus participated.

At the end of the EU-Western Balkans the participants adopted the declaration[3] that warns that Russia's escalating war of aggression against Ukraine is putting European and global peace and security at risk and underscores the importance of the strategic partnership between the EU and the Western Balkans region. The Declaration also stipulates that the EU reconfirms its full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans. It urges Western Balkans countries to pursue full alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and to act accordingly, including on EU restrictive measures. The EU commended those Western Balkans Partners that were already demonstrating their strategic commitment in this regard by fully aligning with the EU CFSP and encouragde those that have not done so to follow suit.

This was the first time the summit was organized in the Western Balkans region. However, the biggest event in the region is the one from October 2021 in Belgrade when the Nonalignment Summit was organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the Movement and delegations from more than 120 countries participated at it. 

Dealing with consequences instead of causes of the crisis 

The Russian invasion on Ukraine has caused the largest security crisis in Europe since World War II and resulted in the energy and food crises. At the Tirana summit the EU promised assistance to Western Balkans countries in the amount of a billion euros for mitigation of consequences of the energy crisis. The EU did not offer a solution to the Ukraine crisis, it does not deal with the causes of the Ukraine crisis but its consequences, which affect not just the EU but the entire world. This led to disturbances in the entire world and the largest crisis of the UN global order, which was established as a consequence of World War II and does not correspond to the modern times and relations in the world. 

The war in Ukraine has caused disturbances in trade and investments throughout the world, it affected automobile manufacturers in Europe, hotel industry in tourist destinations, import of food and energy. Although the underprivileged in the world, who spend a better part of their incomes on their basic needs, are the most affected, there is not a single country, region or industry that has remained untouched by these disturbances. The war and the sanctions resulted in interruption of key transport communications between Russia and Ukraine and the rest of the world, thus disturbing world trade in the broader context. Russian transport connections with European ports have been interrupted, and export of goods to other destinations is limited. 

Analyses indicate that the companies will reassess geopolitical risks and that manufacture will be moved from countries identified as risky, which will to some extent reshape the global trade chains and global business in general. At the same time, this will be a major development opportunity for the Western Balkans countries. 

Russian influence is a major threat for Western Balkans 

Russia's influence in the Balkans is becoming a major threat for the West, which had neglected this region for too long. For the time being Russia is consumed with the aggression of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin is saving himself and his empire. The Western Balkans is put on hold. The “Putinians” in the region are waiting for the signal to act. 

A possible conflict in the Western Balkans would not be a local conflict, but a European conflict that would include EU. Namely, the unipolar world (US) like the one from the 90-ies of the past century no longer exists, while the modern world is polycentric and there are actors ready to set Europe “on fire.” 

Analysts believe that Serbia, as the most influential country in the region, has a special place in regional relations and European perspective, because without a European Serbia there can be no European Balkans. Serbia is at a crossroads. The question to be asked is whether the EU wants Serbia in an alliance with Russia and China, which are drawing Serbia into their geopolitical, military and economic interests, or the EU wants to help Serbia become a full-fledged member of the EU. In this case, it is up to the EU, which should help Serbia and stop with the constant conditioning of this Balkans country. EU is responsible for the fiasco of the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Pristina. The constant incidents and blockades, which are predominantly attributed to the government in Pristina, are not a good starting point for reaching and signing a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on normalization of relations and reveal the true state of relations within the EU. 

Christopher Hill[4], US Ambassador to Serbia, said that Serbia is in a specific situation with respect to introduction of sanctions to Russia, predominantly because of its major dependence on Russian energy and that the overall picture was too complex to simply say “join the sanctions”.

Threat to BiH comes from EU and NATO member countries – candidate status

If the EU grants the candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina, time-wise it will still lag behind in the European integration process in comparison with other Western Balkans countries- Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania. 

The EU candidate status that is being announced is a kind of hypocrisy. Turkey will probably never become an EU member, and there is a real danger that Bosnia and Herzegovina could experience the same fate. Currently, you have EU member countries that would not qualify for membership, and BiH does not lag in any respect behind them. Furthermore, there are also EU member countries that openly or covertly support and collaborate with Russia. Hence, the question to be asked is what BiH needs to do to become an EU member. If there is the political will in the EU, BiH could become an EU member in a record short period of time.

Analysts believe that key dangers and threats to Bosnia and Herzegovina come from individual EU and NATO member countries. Therefore, it is of historical importance for stability and peace in the Wester Balkans, but also in Europe, and not just because of the Ukraine crisis, to award Bosnia and Herzegovina the candidate status, because at the last EU summit the same status was given to Ukraine and Moldova for similar reasons. 

EU introduces a quasi-visa regime for Western Balkans countries 

The Ukraine crisis has cause tectonic changes in the world. The US and EU have to know that socialism was overthrown because of the appealing values that were offered – democracy, human rights, civil and economic freedoms.... Abolition of roaming fees between EU and Western Balkans countries is a populist measure by the EU. Namely, it is evidently clear that with the emergence and use of various applications (Viber, Whatsapp, Telegram, etc.) roaming has been rendered senseless. Therefore, such a measure is an insult to common sense of the people in the Western Balkans. 

On the other side the EU is introducing the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS[5]) for third countries, which include Western Balkans countries. It seems justified to ask whether EU truly wants to see enlargement of the EU or does it want to permanently cement the enlargement process through the introduction of the ETIAS system? At the same time the EU requests from Western Balkans countries to introduce visas for citizens of third countries. This is a particularly sensitive issue for Serbia which has a visa-free regime with a large number of countries. By introducing a visa regime to a large number of member countries of the Nonalignment Movement, Serbia would actually annul the positive effects of the Nonalignment Summit from October 2021, which was held in Belgrade and was a milestone in the development and promotion of relations with these countries. Application of the ETIAS regulation would mean introduction of a visa regime with countries with which Serbia has begun to develop intensive economic cooperation, which would result in enormous damage to Serbia. Furthermore, the EU has also assigned new homework to Western Balkan countries in relation to illegal migration, fight against terrorism and organized crime. 

The ETIAS system practically means that prior to entering the EU all citizens of Western Balkans countries (except for Kosovo, for which there is still anachronism of the visa regime) would have to fill out a special application and in such a way apply for approval of entry into the EU. This practically means a silent introduction of a new quasi visa regime, in comparison to the current freedom of movement for all citizens of Western Balkans countries (except for the already mentioned Kosovo). In this context, the candidate status will mean nothing and citizens of Western Balkans countries will be in the same position as all other citizens entering EU from any other part of the world. 

End of era of “courtship of the West”


Analysts believe that the EU has to make strategic decisions on the enlargement process and define the timeframe for it. The undefined position of Western Balkans countries distances these countries from the EU and generates certain frustrations. The global order we used to know no longer exists. The French-German axis within the EU no longer exists in the form in which we knew it. Power is shifting from the West towards the East. The unipolar world no longer exists. The world is now polycentric with complex and intertwined interests. The world is going through major geopolitical turmoil and shifts. The EU should not perceive itself from the position of Europe centrism, because the era of “courtship of the West” is at its end. Every country pursues its policy in line with its interests and has different offers and solutions for its future on the table. The EU is no longer the only offer and option on the menu of Western Balkans countries. The ball is in the EU’s court now. 

Ljubljana/Brussels/Washington, 13 December 2022

[1] IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.

[2] Source: EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana, 6 December 2022, link:  https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/international-summit/2022/12/06/

[3] Source: Tirana Declaration, 6 December 2022, link: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/60549/tirana-declaration-01.pdf 

[4] Source : Kosovo Online, Hill: Serbia is in specific circumstances, it should be assisted in making the choice, link: https://www.kosovo-online.com/vesti/politika/hil-srbija-u-specificnim-okolnostima-treba-joj-pomoci-sa-izborom-10-10-2022

[5] Source: European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), link: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/HR/LSU/?uri=CELEX:32018R1240