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Ege Eralp

European Union’s Enlargement on Balkans and Russia as a Great Opposition


European Union is an organization that aspiring to unite democratic European countries in an union and improve their citizens’ living standards in a basic scale. If we take Europe’s history as an example which contains full of wars, creating a cooperation system was very difficult for them. But with the innovations and developments most importantly on single market which enables the free circulation of capital, employment and commodity, they managed to maintain peace and prosperity on Europe. With the increasing development rate of European Union, their plans on extending its scope became more of an issue because with an enlargement, the European Union’s prosperity could grow and provide better conditions to its members. But before examining the EU’s enlargement, we need to take a closer look to the meaning of “enlargement” on multinational organizations’ scale.On multinational organizations scale, especially European Union in this study, most of the time “enlargement” means prosperity. With the new participants (it could be a country, a company, an association, etc.) the union’s sphere of influence enlarges, thus its capability on providing development and providing market profit improves. Therefore, the enlargement of a multinational organization is an important achievement to procure.

European Union is focusing on an enlargement mainly because the factors we mentioned above. Chances of extending the free market and its profit, and also single market. With the enlargement of “the single market”, “innovative business models could improve, retailers could do business in more extensive areas”[1]. In the meantime, the improvements on free and single market could provide a basis for prosperity and opportunities for both European businesses and citizens.  Also with the enlargement, EU could ensure the peace and stability in its surrounding regions. By this means, the European Union can gain strength and pursue its interests. With all of these advantages and benefits of the enlargement, European Union’s long-term objectives on the enlargement seems judicious.


  • Why Western Balkans are Very Important for the EU Enlargement?

            In the EU’s plans on enlargement, Western Balkans plays an important role for their goals. Approximately for the past 15 years, the European Union has been contemplating and planning the prospect of membership of the Western Balkans countries. Due to this, relationship between the EU and the Western Balkans taking shape from this situation. The European Union’s enlargement plans on Balkans are mainly based on the ground of EU’s desire of protecting its political deepening process against the conflicts and regional wars which taking place in Balkans.Before the 2003, relations between these two side were not that good. In the 1990’s Yugoslavia fell apart, the state authority broke down in 1997 in Albania, a civil war just barely averted in Macedonia in 2001 and the idea of nationalism in Serbia and Crotia created an autocracy[2]. Therefore, the criteria which European Union stipulates for the membership was excessively impossible to fulfill by the Western Balkans countries, and beside that, most of them also did not want to become a member of the Euopean Union mainly because of their communist background. But after the death of Crotian dictator Franjo Tudjman in 1999 and the ouster of the Milosevic regime in Serbia, a new democratic chapter seemed to be opening within the EU and the Balkans. In the sequel, with the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, some type of social contract constituted between the Balkan states and the European Union, and this contract seemed as it will be well suited for the consolidation of democracy in the post-Yugoslav space. Together with social contract which came up with the Shessaloniki Summit, European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy became the main topic in relations between the Balkans and due to this policy, EU subsequently deployed civilian and military missions in Balkan countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. Ever since the starting of these missions, the European Union viewed these countries throughout the lens of EU enlargement. The CSDP of the EU seemed as successfully delivered and no major violence has occured in the region since 2000’s, except some little incidents. All of the countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and Serbia have democratic institutions and regular elections nowadays. Since the early 2000’s, power just has passed peacefully, democratically and regularly between government and opposition in the countries which I mentioned above.



  • Changing Aspects of EU Enlargement

Today with the current circumstances, the sense of optimism on EU’s enlargement and relations between Balkans which became more essential with the important developments that started in the early 2000’s, seems like disappearing. There is a policy drift on the EU side and a regression in the “Western Balkan 6” think tanks. Most of the powerful members of the European Union have turned against the idea of enlargement. Member countries like Netherlands, Austria and the France which was always agrees with the opinion of enlargement are now stopped supporting the enlargement. More importantly the United Kingdom, which is the main supporter of enlargement, is on the brink of departing the EU. This change of mind mainly depends on hostile public opinion towards enlargement in leading member states and this ideational change creates a labefaction on EU’s strategic commitment to enlargement. With the ups and downs on popular or elite opinions for enlargement in the leading members, the European Union could not manage to reevaluate its enlargement plans and also still could not ensure that enlargement is a prior policy on its future agenda.

As a result, the European Union lost the great chance of gaining influence in the region, which would serve to it as a tool of gaining “soft power” that underlies in union’s self-indentification. Meanwhile in Balkans, political elites have started to learn how to acquire European Union’s main elements without being a member of it. These elements are primarily; reforming, the rule of law, civil society involvement, etc.. Also these politicans used these elements to consolidate their power over civic space, the media and political parties. “Leaders of these countries started to defy the European Union without thinking the consequences and addition this, ordinary citizens of the some Balkan countries have learned not to expect any effective support from abroad.”[3] For example Serbia praised as a “frontrunner” in the European Union accession process but with the following attitudes of President Vucic, which includes consolidation of his power and hegemony over the Serbian media, the institutions and the political life, made Serbia to lose its political freedom, which is not acceptable by EU criteria.

However, the European Union is evidently aware of this state of affairs in the Western Balkans countries. EU’s own reports showing us that the main problem lies in the continuation of the current approach. The problematic and non-democratical administrations in the candidate countries are great obstacles against the membership process, but the reports proved that 35 policy chapters which prepared by the EU just failed to create the convenient conditions for the candidate countries too, and its diplomatic language made it incomprehensible in the eyes of civil society. Consequently, the European Union enlargement process on Balkans is continuing and relations between them are still in progress. With the rise of different aspects, both Balkans’ and the EU’s point of view on enlargement regularly changing. But, apart from EU and Balkans, this enlargement operation has one more component which is very huge, Russia.


  • Russia’s Thoughts and Behaviors Against EU’s Western Balkans Enlargement


Balkans always had an important role in Russian foreign policy throughout the history. The relevancy between Russia and the Balkans firstly and most importantly base on their sameness on culture, religion and origin. The idea of integrating the Christian (Orthodox) and Slavic people was always a dream ever since the times of the Russian Empire. At the times of Russian Empire, reasons behind adopting this policy were coming from wideness of the Balkans lands and its closeness to the Europe. But in the process of time, after the World War II, the integration idea remained the same, but its ingredients were changed. After the war, their policy was focusing on spreading the communion of socialism. They planned to instil the Soviet model of socialism in the Eastern Europe and the Balkans to become dominant in the region, but the multi-national structure of the Soviet Union made it difficult to achieve because of the various political opinions in those nations under Soviet Union. In the early phases of post-war era, the Soviets were planning to prevent Balkans nations (which are already suffering from crisis) from an unification. If this kind of unification just had occured, Tito’s Yugoslavia might have gained more strength and this situation would seriously damage the Soviet plans of dominating the region. Even though their culture and religion were so similar, Tito’s behavior on implementing a different type of socialism in Yugoslavia (mainly because of the disagreements between Tito and Stalin due to the agreements which arranged within Stalin and Churchill during the World War II)  was the starting point of this situation. So esentially, Russian behavior on Balkans is once again shaped around the idea of holding the region in its hands and not allowing any other nation to rise powerfullyin the region.

In the 1990’s, Balkans were a war zone for a long time. After the death of Josip Broz Tito (1980), ethnical conflicts and economic depressions increased too much and these factors combined and concluded with pitched wars. With the end of these civil wars (in this case these wars in Yugoslavia should be considered as civil wars even if them happened between different sides of population like Serbians or Kosovans, due to the federation system) which continued for almost 20 years, Yugoslavia divided into seven different sovereign country. Lastly after the death of Milosevic, Serbia and Montenegro also decided to loose the union between them which came with Yugoslavia’s Federated system. With this regulation, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia changed to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.

Even though Balkans were struggling with serious conflicts, Soviets could not manage to intervene to the region and secure its dominance, but it has some important reasons. In 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned from his assignment and the disintegration of the Soviets just started. Disintegration of Soviet Union has several reasons like their defeat against Western Bloc on armament race and economic troubles which happened due to this race. Starting from 1992, Russia decided to draw away from Balkans by using its inside problems as an excuse. The problems that Russia suffers were so huge and it had to gather some strength but this alteration process did not last very long. Russia revised its foreign policy once again in 1994 and decided and set the Balkan crisis as a non-negligible foreign case for them. In the absence of Russia, Western countries started to gain dominance in the Balkans region and this situation created a panic in Russian foreign policy.So the tension between West and the Russia wasquite important that it had the potential of making Russia to change its foreign decisions in a short period of time. While changing its policy, Russia used the existence of Western countries in the Balkans as a legitimate reason to expand its military force in the region.

Including Russian Empire, Second World War, Post-War and Cold War periods, Russia’s Balkans policies were always both ideological and strategical. Like I mentioned above, Western Bloc’s efforts on creating a sphere of influence on Eastern Europe is a crucial case for Russians. For example, the military operations of NATO in Bosnia-Herzegovina corresponded with concern by Russia and accepted as an expansion of European Union on Balkans. Since there are cultural and religious similarities between Russia and the Balkans, and Russia’s long-term policies which shaped around their ambitions on retaining the Eastern Europe region, this type of military operations are quite naturally have the potential of making Russia worried. With the EU’s enlargement on Balkans, Russia would be obliged to watch EU’s pressure on themself and degrade to a lower position for retraining its dominance, and end up with economic and geographic difficulties.At this point, since because we are examined the importance of the region for both Russia-EU relations and Russia’s own foreign policies, I want to continue with Russia’s moves which are adopted in order to absorbing the European impact on their interests.

After realizing the importance of the Balkans region again, Russia started to improve their relations with the new constituted countries which were occured after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Developing relation with the regional countries was so important for Russia because a stable and consistent dialogue with these countries ensure the safety of Mediterranean and Black Sea regions for the benefit of Russia. For the purpose of securing its interests in a highyl important geopolitical area, Russia chose the way of creating commercial relation with regional partners and used its energy resources to maintain it. In this case, using the energy resources for the purpose of holding the Balkans in its hands is a very functional and reasonable action by Russia, because the Eastern Europe region is requiring too much of an energy to continue their development process. In these circumstances, Russia is the perfect supplier for their demands with their rich sources. Despite the old connections (origin, religion and culture) between them, their relations are mostly shaped around these commercial actions, so using this method to obtain dominance in the Balkans region is a very effective way to achieve it for the side of Russia. Due to these reasons, it is impossible for Russia to avoid bilateral relations with the Balkans nations because it would end up with a great risk of losing the influence on precious geological zones. Lastly, in a hypothetical and inevitable crisis with the Balkans, Russia would have constrained to adopt the path of cooperating with the West, because the situation that contains bad relations both with the Balkans and the West could seriously damage the Russian benefits and end up with a permanent lose of power in this region. Regarding this, the trade agreements which formed between Russia and the countries like Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro are have a great importance for Russia to maintain its influence on region and overall state income.


  • What Could Take Place on Balkan Casein the Future

European Union and Balkans –

             During the time of war (1990-2000), European Union tried to take the control and become a dominate power in the region with its Common Security and Defence Policy. Since they could not manage to achieve it while the socialist thoughts were still dominant, they tried to take the advantage of Eastern Europe’s disordered position. Their efforts on integrating the Balkans to the organization was very effective at this time. With the increased and improved relations, the Balkans seemed like it could be included into the European Union system very successfully any time soon. But there was a quite important problem in the process of integration and it was the historical difference of opinion between these two sides. Balkans countries like Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia showed some significant progress with the attempts on creating more democratic political platform and fulfil the European Union criteria. However, even if these developments were remarkable for their democratization process, it was not enough to bring them together with the fundamental thoughts of European Union. With the re-rising ideas around the world (especially in Europe) like nationalism, its meaning came to light more clearer. In Europe, far-right parties just started to gain strength in their countries (Austria, Italia, Spain, etc.) and follow policy in paralel with it. Due to their attitude, a region’s involvement to the European system which contains socialist ingredients in its past became an impossible job to complete. Apart from this, European countries started to dissent on basic issues and could not manage to strike a balance. So even when Europe agitating with the far-right parties’ impact on daily political life, relationship between the European Union and the Balkans seems like it will stay constant.


  • Russia –

While European Union suffers from the rise of far-right parties and ideas, Russia could take an advantage from this uncertainty between EU-Balkans relations. Tentative future of their relations could be useful for Russia to improve and regulate its works in the region. To achieve its aim, Russia could use its common background with the Balkan countries. Since the rising nationalism seems like it is also effecting the Balkan region, it would not be so difficult to create a common ground with the regional countries for Russia. Creating this type of common ground would be so significant for Russia’s economic and strategical goals. If it can manage to achieve this, it could help Russia to invigorate its dominance on Balkan region and with this evolvement, Russia could create a huge pressure on West, economically and psychologically. While Europe is struggling with internal conflicts, Russia’s pressure could create a more severe impact than it could in a more stable time of period. So, from my point of view, this moment is the correct time for Russia to concentrate its policies and affairs on Balkan region.

To conclude, this case has multiple aspects in it. All the sides have its own perspective and they are trying to achieve their objectives. When we look, we can see that this enlargement is a wide-ranging case that concerns more elements than only Russia, Eastern Europe or European Union. So its results will absolutely effect more elements more than just the three main actors.


  • References



Demirci, S., R., (2008, 18 Haziran), Rusya’nın Balkan Politikası,

Sancaktar, C., (2006, 14 Haziran), Avrupa Birliği ve Balkanlar,

Demirtaş, Birgül, AB’nin Dönüştürücü Gücü ve Batı Balkanlar’da Demokratikleşme Süreci: Başarılanlar ve Başarılamayanlar, Hukuki, Siyasi ve İktisadi Yönleriyle Avrupa Bütünleşmesinde Son Gelişmeler ve Türkiye-AB İlişkileri, Ankara, 2018.

Gower, Jackie, EU-Russian Relations and the Eastern Enlargement: Integration or Isolation?, (2008 May), 75-93.

Dejevsky, Mary, How the European Union’s Eastern Expansion created Brexit and made an enemy of Russia, (2019, May 2).

Miner, L., Parrock, J., Amiel, S., EU-Western Balkans Summit: Is Enlargement in Sight?, (2019, July 5)

Nadibaidze, Anna, Can EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans Revive?, (2019, January 31),





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