Institute of International Politics and Economics (IIPE) organised a one-day conference “The Western Balkans as ʼresidueʼ of the United Europe: ʼNo man`s landʼ again?” in Belgrade, with the support of the Hanns Seidel Stiftung – Office for Serbia and for Montenegro, on the occasion of the 71th anniversary of the Institute. The conference was opened by Prof. Branislav Đorđević, Director of the IIPE, Lutz Kober, Director of the Office for Serbia and for Montenegro at the Hanns Seidel Foundation, and Dr. Klaus Fiesinger, Regional Director for Southeastern Europe at the Hanns Seidel Stiftung.
The Conference gathered academicians and scholars from Serbia and the neighbouring countries to discuss on how the recent changes in geopolitical environment and the existing problems in the politics of the European Union can undermine the security and wider stability of the Western Balkans as well as the results of Euro-Atlantic integration of the region. The conference was conceived as a research-based debate about various aspects of the emerging brand-new power dynamics that is likely to shape foreign policies of the most important international actors who are striving to enhance their influence and/or presence in the Western Balkans, so that they can fill in the vacuum created by the on-the-ground neglect of the region by the EU in the last decade.
The IIPE provided an academic platform on the future of the Western Balkans with a view to the unprecedented turbulence faced by the EU in the form of a multifaceted crisis. Firstly, there are many controversies about democratic legitimacy of the complex decision-making of Eurocrats, the principles and future of the European integration process, and the increased risk of spilling over of the Brexit dynamic to other member countries, particularly to those with right-wing governments. Secondly, although dealing with the migration crisis has shown so far that this serious challenge can only be solved within a solid European framework, populist and extremist forces are brought to power or strengthened because of the indecisive and paralysed decision-making on the EU level caused reputational damage. Thirdly, the EU can return the respect of its citizens only by developing effective mechanisms to take swift decisions particularly in the fields of defence, security and foreign policy, which importance raise due to permanent turmoil in the Mediterranean neighbourhood, “anxiety” and tensions in the transatlantic partnership, EU–Turkey relations, and policy towards Russia.
In his keynote speech, Professor Slobodan Samardžić, Faculty of Political Science University of Belgrade, shared his views on significant changes in the functions and content of the EU enlargement policy caused by an internal crisis of the political system of the European Union. He pointed to the structural monetary crisis of the European Union, which is accompanied by a transformative legal crisis that could cause the potential disintegration of the Union. After keynote speech, the Conference proceeded in three panels.
The first panel discussed the perspectives and perceptions of the Western Balkans in the supranational dilemmas of the European Union. Dr. Maja Kovačević devoted the presentation to the fall of the so-called transformational capacity of the European Union in relation to the countries of the Western Balkans. Continuing on the previous presentation, Dr. Ivana Radić Milosavljević presented a set of possible scenarios concerning the form of membership of future EU Member States, emphasizing the “enlargement without membership” as the most likely outcome of the regional integration process. The uncertainty of the enlargement policy and the current trends related to this issue, was presented by Dr. Milan Igrutinovic. The last presentation on the panel devoted to the analysis of the accession of the Western Balkan countries through the sectoral policies case study – energy policy, was done by Dr. Petar Stanojević and Dr. Zoran Jeftić. Discussion was dedicated to the autonomy of the national states of the Western Balkans in relation to the different levels of the achieved integration process and the challenges they face in meeting the criteria for joining the Union. Alternatives to the current form of negotiation have been considered, given the internal structural crisis of the Union as well as the changed political and security situation in the region.
The second panel highlighted issues concerning the relationship of great powers with respect to the Western Balkans in the context of European integration. Prof. Dejan Jović and Dr. Miloš Paunović focused on Brexit and the consequences that this process can leave to the countries of the Western Balkans. Mladen Lišanin presented an analysis of the current transatlantic relations, the US foreign policy dilema, and the future of the Western Balkans, while Dr. Siniša Atlagić put an emphasis on the foreign policy of the Russian Federation in the Balkans. Dr. Ivona Lađevac, and Dr. Vladimir Ajzenhamer, presented their research on the political and economic presence of China and Turkey in the Western Balkans in separate speeches. The key issue of this panel related to the balance of power establishment amongst the Balkan states. Besides, the pluralism of actors within the Western Balkans was emphasized, and in this sense the potential situation of dispute resolution between the Balkan states depends on various factors and is becoming more complex and uncertain.
The third panel discussed the future challenges and scenarios of the integration processes of the Western Balkan countries into the European Union. The initial presentation of Dr. Dragan Đukanović was focused on the results of the Western Balkan countries in the integration processes in 2018. Then there were three presentations focused on case studies. The first one, regarding the analysis of the relationship between the “captured state” in the case of Macedonia and the process of accession to the European Union, was presented by Dr Simonida Kačarska. The next presentation, Dr. Jovana Marovic, was devoted to the analysis of the quality of the political regime in Montenegro and the policy of conditioning the European Union. The last case study referred to Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a crisis management facility in the European Union, and was presented by Dr. Lejla Ramic-Mesihovic. In the last presentation, Dr. Jelena Todorović Lazić, summarized the previous presentations related to the challenges of enlargement policy in the light of the transformation of the European Union. Todorovic Lazic presented the results of a field survey on the attitudes of Serbian citizens regarding membership in the European Union.
Regardless of whether the Conference participants managed to provide valid and reliable answers to those questions, the discussed issues are important because they underline the grim possibility of closing the perspective of joint building of lasting peace in this area of high conflict hazard. In the region plagued by the already decade-long global recession, the establishment of a vested strategic impact as an instrument of a particularistic foreign policy that ignores the long-term vision of the common future of the Western Balkan countries can entice attractive, but superficial and immediate promises, and thus represents a dangerous substitute for the perspective of a united Europe – no matter how much at the present it seems to be far and uncertain.