Europe must not neglect the Western Balkans

Last week’s international conference on the Balkans, convened by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has – as expected – gone largely unnoticed. The Berlin conference was aimed at sending a message of support for the Balkan countries’ European ambitions, meant to bolster the promises that the European Union made to the Balkans in more self-confident days. However, these promises now seem uncertain, against the backdrop of increasing enlargement fatigue, the anti-climactic statements of incoming European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and other EU leaders, and the harsh rhetoric of political forces which, in the current populist mood, associate enlargement with greater migration and insecurity.

Even in the midst of its own internal crisis and the worsening global crises from Ukraine to Iraq, Europe can ill afford to neglect the one region in which the EU has assumed full leadership as a foreign and security policy actor. It was the Balkans’ 1990s dramas that provided the catalyst for the idea of an EU with security responsibilities.