The Balkans, often referred to as the Balkan Peninsula, although the two are not coterminous, is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe. The Balkans are highly mountainous; Mount Musala (2,925 metres (9,596 ft)) in the Rila mountain in Bulgaria is the highest.

Many linguistic families meet in the region, including the Slavic, Romans, Hellenic, Albanian, and Turkic language families, while the main religions are Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam.

The term "The Balkans" covers not only those countries which lie within the boundaries of the Balkan Peninsula, but may also include Slovenia and Romania. Prior to 1991 the whole of Yugoslavia was considered to be part of the Balkans.

At the Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003, all of the EU’s member states declared their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries” and also that “the future of the Balkans is within the European Union”. Although the countries are not EU-members, the EU develops and put into effect policies, because the institutions recognise strong European Neighbourhood Policies.


- UNMIK (UN from 1999)
(NATO from 1999)
(EU from 2008)

Broadly intepreted, the Balkans comprise the following territories: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
, Croatia,
Greece, Kosovo (disputed status), North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania,
Slovenia and, Türkiye.


GEOPOLITICS / ACCESSION CONDITIONS |future scenarios | Mogherini era | Is the EU losing the Western Balkans? | Thessaloniki ten years on | impressions | some history


Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans

The Hague Center for Strategic Studies drafted the report Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans, which examines how and to what extent multiple external actors are increasing their influence over the political elites and peoples of Western Balkans countries. It considers economic, political, religious cultural and security-related factors, and their impact on the future of peace and state-building processes. Increasingly, Eastern actors have been using hybrid threats (disinformation warfare, covert operations to win the hearts and minds of the population by Russia), spreading violent extremism (Gulf countries), potentially debt-trapping some Western Balkans countries (China), violating the EU laws on arms trade (Gulf countries) and implementing identity reengineering (Gulf countries, Iran, Russia, Turkey) in order to advance their geopolitical interests. Indeed, the Eastern actors often adopt a holistic approach in focusing on winning hearts and minds of the Western Balkans population.

It is therefore crucial that Western actors respond swiftly and reinforce their efforts to promote democracy. This in turn would help in winning the hearts and minds of the local population. In addition, it is important to provide alternatives to local governments to prevent them from getting caught in the debt trap diplomacy of China, to counter Turkish authoritarian propaganda, to prevent violent extremism, supported by the Gulf countries and Iran, as well as to counter disinformation warfare conducted by Russia, as well as the rising far right violent extremism identified in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.

  The Western Balkans Summit, part of the Berlin Process, started 2014, and is a five-year process marked by yearly summits in order to underline the commitment to EU-enlargement towards the Western Balkans region. The focus of the initiative is on those countries of the Western Balkans that are not yet EU-members: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

much more
Early 2018, Europe launched a new strategy for the Balkan region, the door opens for 6 countries in the western balkans: strategy for a credible expansion perspective (indication 2025) and enhanced EU engagement. The candidate countries will have to comply with all conditions in areas such as the rule of law, the fight against corruption and crime and - not least - their mutual relations. All six partner countries of the Western Balkans have a clear path to finally join the European Union. Sustained efforts and reforms are still needed, but it is clear that integration is in the interest of the people of the EU and Western Balkans.
  June 2018: European Commission launches Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans: The EU fully supports the region's transition into a digital economy as this will greatly benefit citizens by providing more jobs, better services and faster economic growth.


future scenarios  
Balkan futures Three scenarios for 2025 (EU Institute for Security Studies, 2018, Chaillot Papers. Edited by Marko Čeperković and Florence Gaub with contributions from Donika Emini, Zoran Nechev and Isidora Stakić)

The next seven years will be crucial for the European future of the Western Balkans. Inevitably, the region will undergo a number of socio-political, economic and security transformations that may bring great opportunities but may also entail grave dangers for the societies of the Western Balkans. The governments of the region will be faced with a formidable array of challenges, ranging from fiscal consolidation, resolving bilateral issues, fighting state capture, unemployment and public debt, to aligning foreign policy with the Union and tackling the ongoing brain drain crisis.

As shown in the first two chapters, the region’s complexity stems from the interlinkage of phenomena that currently define and will continue to shape the future until 2025 – six megatrends and six potential game-changers.

In order to help decision-makers navigate through the troubled waters of the Western Balkans, and think about the future in an informed fashion, this Chaillot Paper provides three alternative futures scenarios based on the interaction of the megatrends and game-changers:

(i) The hour of Europe,
(ii) The Balkans in limbo, and
(iii) The ghosts of the past.


What becomes clear from the three scenarios is that the issues besetting the region are common to every Western Balkan country, further confirming that all of them face a number of shared challenges, which are common to the EU member states as well.

The Western Balkans are certainly not a lost cause, nor are the problems affecting the region particularly unique: decisive EU integration efforts, coming from both regional and EU leaders, could help the region resolve its bilateral disputes, limit the space for other foreign actors’ involvement, close the regional and national security gaps, enhance good governance and rule of law practices, and boost economic transformation. Yet it is important to note that the responsibility to foster reforms should not be put on the EU alone, but also on regional partners, governments and leaders.

While this Chaillot Paper does not provide a step-by-step guide to reaching a desired future, it outlines critical junctures (game-changers) to which policy- and decision-makers should certainly pay attention, as they work towards achieving the best outcomes.

There was a clear consensus among the various experts involved in the consultation process that laid the ground for this publication that EU accession (and everything that comes with it) is a major driver of change in the region. Its impact and interlinkage with other game-changers and megatrends will influence the future to a high degree. Therefore, the EU is in a unique position to utilise its established influence and core values to transform the region to which it is culturally and historically the closest. Commitment to enlargement remains key, as was witnessed at the most recent European Council meeting in June 2018, when the compromise on the opening of negotiations with Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was reached.

The year 2025 will mark 22 years since the
Summit in Thessaloniki that confirmed the prospects of EU membership for the Western Balkans. If it is going to be the year that explicitly confirms those prospects by the Union’s enlargement to some Western Balkan countries, it is time to start making future-oriented decisions now – the Western Balkans does not have time to lose.


Mogherini era  
It might seem the visit of HR Federica Mogherini began with enthusiasm and high hopes that Western Balkans need just a little push to continue implementing essential reforms, she realised that it might take more support and understanding from the EU, since the region is flooded with severe political issues heated with harsh inter-ethnic tensions, which caused her to returned to Brussels even more worried. Ahead of her official visit to Montenegro, she stated that “leading the Western Balkans inside the European Union is a task for our political generation, not for the next one.“ She addressed the Parliament of Montenegro on 1 March, 2017 by emphasising the necessity of faster reforms. “The time to pass these reforms is now. The time to make peace in the Balkans irreversible is now. The time to advance Montenegro on the path towards the EU is now,” Mogherini said.

Ahead of her visit to Belgrade, she released a statement in which she underlined the significance of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. “The importance of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is impossible to overstate, for regional stability as much as for Serbians and Kosovars,” she pointed out. She also tackled the issues with Serbian reforms, adding that Serbia needs “a stronger rule of law, a more predictable business environment and that the better services for all citizens would help create new jobs and attract more investments from abroad.”

On her second day in the Western Balkans, Mogherini visited Macedonian parliament, where she urged the political leaders to scale down harsh rhetoric which could ignite inter-ethnic conflict. “All political leaders and all those who have institutional responsibilities have the duty to contain and scale down the rhetoric, avoid that this political and institutional crisis becomes an inter-ethnic conflict, or even worse a geopolitical conflict. This is a complex country in a complex region and in really complex times. We do not need fuel because we have quite some fire already.”
Later that day she visited university students in Skopje giving them an inspiring speech in which she encouraged students to be eager for a change. “I am telling you ‘be impatient!’ and ask for what you want and try to work for what you want. I am not telling you to wait for better times; I am telling you to engage, stay positive, stay positive and consistent and do not let frustration turn into cynicism, violence, or divisions. Do not let anyone tell you that your country will never make it or that you will not make it. If you do not see any progress, or even worse if you see that things are getting worse, which sometimes happens in live and in history, don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. And keep a sense of direction, keep the priorities, engage because your behaviour, your voice, your thoughts count”, HRVP told Macedonian students.

During the third day of the Western Balkans tour, she referred to Serbia’s relations with Russia, telling Serbian president that “there is a perception that full membership implies having to make a choice between the East and the West. One does not rule out the other, and work must be done to change this perception.”

In Tirana, she had a message regarding the political situation of the country. “The leaders have the responsibility to act within the institutions. Political game needs to be played inside the field, not outside it, which means the debate should take place in parliament, which is the heart of democracy,” Mogherini said. The last day of the tour, she went to Pristina with a message that “in the interest of the European Union as well as it is in the interest of the people of this region, it is in the interest of the people of Kosovo, to proceed consistently and as fast as we can on the European Union path of the entire region and of Kosovo as well.” She attended the opening of the revitalised Mitrovica Bridge. She expressed hopes that “the new bridge will no longer mark division or confrontation, but will become the symbol of a new relationship between the Kosovo Serb and the Kosovo Albanian community.” Mogherini reiterated the message that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is of utmost importance. “Reconciliation is the key word here, and this is the key work that we are doing and that we are supporting. The people of Mitrovica are trying to enter into reconciliation between communities and ultimately peace, and with peace comes prosperity.”

The final country she visited was Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she explained that the EU path means stability and security to the country. “Peace is not a minor thing to mention in this city, it is stability, security, economic opportunities for all of us, regional cooperation and what I call the reunification of our continent. Because this is not the European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina because you are already European, this is the perspective to join the European Union that is at stake, and this is a shared objective we have that we are working at that direction,” Mogherini concluded. Some analysts claim – Mogherini visit had no effect on Western Balkans. On Monday, before the meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, Mogherini expressed her fear on current situation in Western Balkans. “Some internal, domestic politics dynamics that create tensions in some countries; some regional inter-ethnic tensions or between or among countries that are extremely dangerous because they could bring the region back a few years. Peace is never to be given for granted. And also I have seen a region exposed to some global tensions. The Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played.” On the other hand, she added that she is “full of optimism and hope because whenever you meet the students, the citizens, civil society, but also so many political and social forces in all the region, you see the enormous support and trust in the European Union. You see the desire to enter the Union.”

However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, Miroslav Lajčák, stated that he thinks “the High Representative returned from her Balkan trip frustrated,” Al Jazeera reports. He added that “the EU is becoming less serious when it comes to enlargement … now we have two countries that are about to collapse, and three that are in deep political crisis.” Having all that in mind, it is clear to see that the Western Balkans is facing severe political challenges and only with the strong support of the EU those issues could be solved.


  Is the EU losing the Western Balkans?
Is the EU losing the Western Balkans? What local experts think

European Council on Foreign Relations, commentary Francisco de Borja Lasheras & Vessela Tcherneva 05th August, 2015: No business as usual in the Western Balkans The Western Balkans remain Europe’s unfinished business, not only for the continuing stalemate in Bosnia or tensions in Macedonia and Northern Kosovo, but also because broader geopolitical developments shaping the EU’s neighbourhood are materialising in this region too - and in ways that could be detrimental to European interests.

Tensions and perception of a stalemate in the Balkans are enhanced by "the five year freeze", while emerging forms of rule are at odds with the EU’s founding tenets and the integration narrative. Indeed, the same competition of models, that we see in other parts of Europe, which pits more or less pluralist democracies against populists or illiberal democracies in the mould of Viktor Orban or even “Putinism”, is played out in the Western Balkans too, with uncertain outcomes for this fragile region. Ironically, in the very part of the world where the EU is in the lead and where its influence, through its transformative power, should be at its most potent, local experts concur that the EU is no longer the leading actor and that its leverage has decreased.

Should Europe prove unable to reverse, or at least neutralise, the most negative aspects of such developments, the Western Balkans could enter a sort of strategic limbo close to “Europe”: neither truly in, nor truly out, pray to geopolitical encroachment by other actors, poorly democratised and with latent security challenges.

That the “Pax Europeanna” is in question in the Western Balkans has been for some time now the subject of analysis by pundits and a matter of growing concern in some capitals. Yet, beyond ‘policy speak’ about “European re-engagement” or keeping enlargement alive, there seems to have been thus far precious little in terms of a purposeful, pan-European strategic discussion on what is the actual shape of these challenges and, importantly, what should Europeans do about them. These questions were tackled by a recent workshop in Sofia, with notable participation of Balkan think-tankers, journalists and analysts. The guest speakers included HR/VP Federica Mogherini, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov and deputy Bulgarian PM Meglena Kuneva. More than 50 experts from the Balkans and the Black Sea region raised their concerns and offered policy suggestions.

What do local experts think?

Local experts argued that the EU is basically acting on policy autopilot, with an overwhelming focus on process (e.g. benchmark decision-making) and less on substance (e.g. actual progress on deep democratisation and good governance). The EU’s own internal struggles and negative politics with its Grexit and Brexits, together with the political chill resulting from the enlargement fatigue, have contributed to its losing leverage in the Western Balkans.

In turn, elites are often not keen on passing reforms which are threatening their power interests or remain comfortable in spoiler politics. In these circumstances, the costs and benefits of a distant EU prospect are reassessed when set against the more tangible benefits offered by other strategic actors.

There is a sense that, at present, not only has momentum been lost but negative momentum has set in. We see democratic rollbacks across the region, outbursts of tensions (for instance, the controversy around the Srebrenica commemorations, magnified by Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council) and the resulting power vacuum gradually filled, in different ways, by Russia, Turkey, the Gulf countries or even China. Other experts argued that Europeans would be trading “democracy for stability” and even renouncing basic principles –with references to acceptance with undemocratic practices in Macedonia and elsewhere. Though regional initiatives, such as the Berlin Process, the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue and the EC-led Politcal agreement in Skopje, are sign of a certain re-engagement, experts showed scepticism towards these projects’ real capacity to be game-changers. This doubt is given more credence, given the regional tradition of undertaking power-sharing or reforms commitments that, in spite of much rhetoric and fanfare, are not honoured.

When it comes to stale dossiers such as Bosnia or the crisis of Macedonia, participants in the workshop argued for the EU to be more assertive, instead of just an incentive-based approach, to guarantee respect for agreements and reassurance against spoiler politics, tensions and zero-sum games.

A new European strategy for the Western Balkans?

Local experts overwhelmingly advocated for a reassessment of EU’s policies towards the region and, above all, to avoid current inertia, even if this were to see changes in the way forward. In their view, the EU and its member states would need a “new strategy” for the region. This strategy should be coherent with the ongoing process for a new EU Global Strategy. Such a strategy should follow, they argue, a policy reassessment based on lessons learned from scenarios like Kosovo or Macedonia. Moreover, the current autopilot mode on enlargement cannot continue. The EU should reverse a trend of disempowerment of democratic forces in the region, and shift course to enable a more inclusive, truly transformational process that would rely more heavily on civil society's role. The current emphasis on regional cooperation, socio-economics and governance is positive, but needs to be backed with real, tangible outcomes for the population and based on sustained implementation of reforms.

Overall, there is a sense that Europe needs to re-establish itself with regards to the Western Balkans and that, in the face of these challenges, more of the same will not suffice. The different strategic processes in the EU and some of its member states should be an opportunity for this policy reset or new strategy. Ultimately, as local experts suggested, the future of the Western Balkans is a question that fundamentally pertains to the kind of EU that Europeans really want and to the future of the European project itself. This is a question that Europeans can no longer dodge. And, for the Western Balkans, the sooner they answer it, the better, unless they want other global powers to pre-empt their answer.


Thessaloniki ten years on  
In the CEPS commentary 'Thessaloniki ten years on: Injecting momentum into the enlargement process for the Western Balkans', the EU is exhorted to mark the occasion by reaffirming with greater determination the European perspective for the countries of the region in the hope of keeping the Balkan ghosts at bay. What probably had the greatest impact in terms of tangible benefits for the citizens of the region, as well as giving them a sense of belonging to the EU family, was the granting of visa-free travel to the Schengen area. Citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were granted visa-free travel in December 2009 and the citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina were granted the same status a year later. With patience and determination the EU can steer progress in the Western Balkans (24-06-2008). We need patience and determination, not doomsday scenarios, to drive progress in the region. And especially with Serbia in the mind, evolution rather than catharsis is certainly the better recipe for change. Over the past two years, the countries of the Western Balkans have moved closer to the EU. This reflects progress, albeit uneven, in reforms and in meeting established criteria and conditions'. Watch 'BalkanInsight' to see Balkan news in depth.

Some policies:

European Union Institute for Security Studies



is a member of the UN, NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Council of Europe, World Trade Organisation, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and one of the founding members of the Union for the Mediterranean. Albania has been a potential candidate for accession to the European Union since January 2003, and it formally applied for EU membership on 28 April 2009. Albania is a parliamentary democracy with a transition economy
is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic at the crossroads of Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Most of the population are Croats, being Roman Catholicism.
Croatia today has a very high Human Development Index. is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, NATO, the World Trade Organization, CEFTA and a founding member of the Union for the Mediterranean. Croatia is a member state of the European Union since July 2013
'The future of Macedonian multiethnic democracy' is the title of the lecture from H.E. Mr. Nikola Dimitrov on 5 April 2011, a part of the
ALBFACT lecture series.
10 November 2011 Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic lectured on the road to EU membership and expressed confidence that Belgrade would make progress in solving the problem
Bosnian war broke out on April 1, 1992, after Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared itself independent from Yugoslavia. Most Bosnian Muslims and Croats supported independence, but Bosnian Serbs proclaimed their own republic, the Republic of Srpska
Modern Greece traces its roots to the civilisation of ancient Greece, generally considered the cradle of Western civilization. As such, it is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature and historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, university education, the (reinvented) coin, and Western drama, including both tragedy and comedy. Religion is Greek Orthodox.
Country of the Black Mountains. Montenegro, alias Crna Gora: a côte dázur, canyons and a world heritage, situated within a surface not larger than Flanders in Belgium. The bay of Kotor is Europe's most south situated fjord and created to make a tour.
KOSOVO (disputed status)
On Tuesday 22 February 2011, His Excellency Mr Nexhmi Rexhepi - the Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to the Kingdom of Netherlands - delivered a lecture entitled: "Kosovo, factor of stability in the region".' After Balkan wars of the 1990's, South Eastern Europe seems to be heading for a new era. Reconciliation and reconstruction were initial keywords. Security and stability followed next. Integration and participation are today's magical expressions
TURKEY: economic, political and cultural achievements in the last decade or so have been nothing short of spectacular. the country's GDP was multiplied by three, exports by ten, industrialization and tourism registered stunning increases, and, as a result, Turkey is now acknowledged to be an important player (or stakeholder) in the Middle East and the new Islamic Central Asian republics. In the creative arts, the younger generation has shown a great deal of talent and imagination, as well as a deep understanding of what true or genuine democracy, human rights and freedom of expression entails


Some history

9 December Serbian elections
1991 25 June
21 December
Croatia and Slovenia declared themselves independence from Yugoslavia. Popular armee intervenes. Fights between Croatians and Serbians.
Serbians in Bosnia pronounce by referendum against separation from Bosnia. They proclaimed their own republic.
1992 3 January
15 January
29 Februari/ 1 March
3 March
6 April
30 May
3 July
9 October
armistice in Croatia
Germany recognized Croatia
referendum in Bosnia on independence. Boycot by Bosnian Serbians
Bosnia proclaims independece
EU and US recognize Bosnia as independent state. War around Sarajevo and in other parts of Bosnia. Genocide on large scale against muslims and Bosnian Croatians
UN sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro
Croatians in Bosnia proclaim the independent republic Herceg Bosna
concentration camps in Bosnia became known
UN Security Council created a no-fly zone in Bosnia
1993 23 February
6 May
25 May
4 June
US decide to drop food on Bosnia
UN SC declared, amoung other areas, Srebrenica and Sarajevo as safe area
UN SC decide to establish the Yugoslavia tribunal
UN protected safe areas
1994 5 February
25 February
1 March
10-11 April
During an attack with granates on a market in Sarajevo 66 died. NATO issued an ultimatum to remove all heavy weapons around Sarajevo
Croatians and muslims stroke a armistice
Bosnian government and Bosnian Croatians decide to establish a federation in Bosnia
first NATO air-strikes on Serbian positions
1995 1 May
26 May
11 July
24 July
4 August
30-31 August
1 November

21 November
Croatia reconquerred West Slovenia from Serbians
Serbians are bombing Sarajevo. NATO performance lead to the hostage of blue helmets by Serbians
fall of the Srebrenica enclave. Mass murder on 8.000 people
Tribunal accused Bosnian and Serbian leaders of genocide and crimes against humanity, due to sieges of and attacks on Sarajevo
Croatia starts to reconquer of Krajina
NATO attacks on Serbian goals
Start peace negotations in Dayton between leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. The Dayton agreement spread Bosnian population over over 3 areas: Serbians in the North, East and South, a sickled formed area. Muslims in the middle of the country. Croatians stayed in the West, not far from the coast. Moreover, it was stated that Bosnia got three layers of government: a central government and two entities. Muslims and Croatians were housed in one entity, the Muslim-Croatian Federation, Serbians in the other, the Serbian Republic. But above all, Bosnia is an international protectorate, guided by a High Representative, who is also the EU Special Representative
Presidents of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia agreed on a peace deal (
Dayton Agreement), which was signed in Paris on 14 December
1996 12 Decemberr UN SC set up the SFOR peace keeping force
1998 Summer Attack army and police of Serbia against increasing attacks from Kosovo's liberation army (UCK), which resulted in mass expulsion and murder on Albanian citizens of Kosovo
1999 24 March
11 June
start NATO actions against Yugoslavia due to ethnic purges in Kosovo
end of NATO operation in Kosovo
2000 April
24 September
5 October
About hundredthousand Serbians demonstrates in Belgrado for accelerated elections
elections in Serbia
opponents of Milosevic assaults the parliament
2006 11 March death of former president of Serbia
2008 17 February Kosovo independent (disputed status)

Treaty of San Stefano

The Preliminary Treaty of San Stefano was a treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire signed at the end of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78. Although according to the official Russian position, by signing the treaty, Russia had never intended anything more than a temporary rough draft, so to enable a final settlement with the other Great Powers, this preliminary treaty almost immediately became the central point of Bulgarian foreign policy, lasting until 1944 and leading to the Second Balkan War and Bulgaria's participation in World War I.

The treaty provided the creation of a Principality of Bulgaria as autonomous, after almost 500 years of Ottoman domination. The enlarged Bulgaria envisioned by the treaty alarmed neighboring states as well as France and Great Britain. As a result, it was never implemented, being superseded by the Treaty of Berlin following the Congress of the same name, a meeting of the leading statesmen of the European Great Powers and the Ottoman Empire, in Berlin in 1878. The meeting's aim was to reorganize the countries of the Balkans.