EU Attention Finally Rests on the Balkans Amid Growing Chinese Influence
There are currently five major Balkan candidates for EU enlargement: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, and North Macedonia and Turkey. While talks with Turkey have stuttered, the remaining countries could prove pivotal for the EU to continue its policy of enlargement of its union of democratic markets. But have they left it too late and allowed China to gain a foothold within Europe both financially and politically?
It was agreed at the European Council summit in 2003 that including the Western Balkans was important in stabilising the most volatile of political regions in Europe, yet it still hasn't happened.
In 2019, the enlargement policy of the EU continues to cite the Western Balkans as a priority, but since 2013, politically and economically its attention has been diverted by structural failings of the Eurozone in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy.
Italy's 2018 budget policy drew criticism from the EU, forcing it to change tack. Greece only managed to exit the three-year Eurozone bail-out programme it was provided in 2015 in August 2018, as illustrated by DailyFX's research on the eurozone debt crisis. Brexit negotiations over the last two years have also stalled EU focus, making it more prudent than ever that the EU finally draws its attention to the Balkan region. For the EU to continue to ignore appeals from the region to join it provides the opportunity for China to exert greater influence in the region.
Politically and socially, the EU continues to push for reforms with its Balkan neighbours, with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel leading the call for internal reforms, which resulted in North Macedonia holding a referendum last year to rename itself.
China has been interested in the Balkans for a long time. It...