Towards an EU geopolitical approach on transformative terms in the Western Balkans
This policy brief assesses the EU response after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, asking how the EU can pursue a geopolitical EU enlargement approach while maintaining its transformative objectives. The brief first provides a concise assessment of the instruments that the EU employs to strengthen democratic resilience and to counter Russian influence in the three countries. We argue that the EU has a comprehensive and effective range of instruments available, even if Russia has maintained its ability to project especially ‘soft’ power. However, when looking at the overall EU political approach towards these countries, we observe negative effects of the manner in which geopolitical imperatives for enhanced engagement are currently converted into strategy and discourse. More specifically, an insufficiently overarching firm and confident EU political approach towards the Western Balkans undermines the transformative potential of the EU’s impressive toolbox for the region. The brief concludes that by becoming more confident and upfront, sticking to its values and making use of negative conditionality besides offering positive incentives, the EU can pursue a more effective geopolitical approach on transformative terms towards the Western Balkans.