The Western Balkans on the road to the EU and NATO?*

By Hamza Preljević and Almir Mustafić

The new EU strategy is a credible EU plan for accession the Western Balkan (WB) countries to its community and expansion of its market and economic space, but also a plan to address certain EU security issues through resolving systemic problems of the WB. The WB countries are expected to carry out reforms on the model of Slovenia and Croatia, and eventually raise their economic and other standards and harmonize them with the standards of other EU member states. It should be kept in mind that the EU is primarily an economic community, while NATO membership, although not one of the conditions for accession, is implied for the EU member states and it basically ends the entire process of joining the elite Western world. Through EU and NATO memberships, the WB countries would gain access to the European economy and security, but their position, as well as the influence in the region would be significantly different, and this primarily applies to Serbia.

Because of its ties with Russia1 and other countries that are considered pro-Russian, Serbia is often regarded as the source of instability in the Balkans.2 However, Serbia has a real stronghold for its partnership with Russia, and the same holds true for its relations with China. Serbia can currently be considered the strongest state of the WB, and part of its strength lies in the fact that it has a direct influence on the development of political events in BiH, Macedonia, Kosovo and partly Montenegro, while through the Serb members of the parliament has the ability to influence certain decisions even in Croatia.3 Also, Russia provides Serbia with significant support in the UN institutions, and it lobbies for China's support to Serbia. Russia is a strategic partner in Serbia in preventing the alleged creation of Greater Albania, as well as resolving the situation in Kosovo and maintaining its influence in other Balkan states. If Serbia solves the issue of economic development - which it is trying to do through economic cooperation with China, Russia, Turkey, and increasingly with BiH4 - and stop the migration of its population, it will further strengthen its regional influence and be able to act from a much better position than its neighbors regarding the EU relations. In addition, Serbia has good economic relations with the EU and other WB countries. On the other hand, the EU and NATO membership poses a threat to Serbia that it will have to recognize Kosovo,5 and it is not certain that it will have the protection of any veto power in the UN Security Council, while its influence in the neighboring countries will be significantly reduced due to EU and NATO mechanisms that will suppress the influence of Serbia, but also strengthen other countries in the region in the military, political, economic and institutional sense.

It should also be taken into consideration that, if it does not become an EU and NATO member, and the countries around Serbia meet the requirements for the integration into the EU and NATO, Serbia will remain isolated and economically almost completely dependent on the EU. Such a position, due to its current commitments, as well as the events of the 1990s, would probably be difficult to change, which in the long run could leave Serbia in a very unfavorable position. That is why it can be expected that Serbia continues its EU efforts, but also to continue assessing trends in relations between the EU, China, Russia, the United States and Turkey and, accordingly, to reconsider its decisions regarding the EU and NATO alliance.

Over the past 20 years, BiH has been under strong, and occasionally adverse influence of Croatia and Serbia. The constitutional and legal system established by the Dayton Peace Agreement was not conceived as a permanent solution, and as such it no longer provides a satisfactory framework that would ensure the prosperity of BiH. The secessionist tendencies of the political majority of the RS and its connections with Serbia and Russia are deepening the gap between the two entities, while the leading Croatian politicians are struggling to establish a third entity. One of the most important current issues that block certain political processes in the Federation of BiH is the amendment to the Election Law, and because of the impossibility of reaching an agreement on this issue, the opinion was again sought from the Venice Commission, the advisory body of the Council of Europe that had already been consulted regarding this issue.6   So far, there have been no concrete solutions to amend the Election Law that are acceptable to all the parties involved, and a major problem is the leaders' unwillingness to compromise. The Commission gives opinions on the constitutions of its members and other legal norms, but its opinions are not formally and legally binding, and therefore there are opinions that the requirements for the reform of the electoral law could lead to "... the biggest constitutional crisis in the country since the end of the war and thus mark the complete failure of the EU's initiatives."7   In order to prevent possible crises, prominent US analyst Daniel Serwer published an analysis of the possible consequences of the reform of the electoral law, saying that the OHR could respond in an attempt to block state institutions in the same way it did after the 2010 election, when HDZ attempted to block the formation of the FBiH Government,8 and of the similar opinion is also Bogić Bogičević, a former member of the Presidency of the SFRY, who emphasizes that the Dayton Peace Agreement has mechanisms that can be used to replace those in power who disregard it.9 However, High Representative Valentin Inzko emphasized that the option of using Bonn powers is not currently being discussed, because if it wants to become an EU candidate BiH must be able to reach a consensus on its most important internal issues."10 Due to unresolved internal issues, BiH lags significantly behind Serbia and Montenegro on its path to the EU. Due to the adoption of the strategy of military neutrality and decision to follow Serbia's path of military orientation, as advocated by the representatives of the Serb people, Bosnia’s NATO membership process has so far been slowed down. In addition, BiH's activities regarding foreign affairs are limited, that is, BiH is not able to focus on its European and NATO integration in full capacity, which makes it vulnerable to various external influences.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Balkan Studies Centre (BSC).

* Originally written in Bosnian language within the project "Bosna i Hercegovina i Berlinski proces: Analiza stanja ključnih procesa u BiH pred Londonsku konferenciju 2018" [Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Berlin Process: Analysis of Key Processes in BiH prior to the London Conference in 2018], Balkan Studies Center (BSC). 



1In 2007, Serbia adopted a declaration claiming military neutrality.
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5 Although Kosovo is recognized by 117 countries in the world, Serbia still considers Kosovo as its territory.
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