The Integration of the Eastern and Western Balkans into the EU and NATO: A Longitudinal and Integrated Analysis

The Integration of the Eastern and Western Balkans into the EU and NATO: A Longitudinal and Integrated Analysis

Hugo Ferrinho Lopes, Alona Bondarenko
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9055-3.ch007
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This chapter puts the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans into the spotlight and further analyzes the reactions from Russia. This integrative process is a relevant intention, especially after the revolutionary changes of the 1990s and the collapse of the communist bloc. Literature is scarce, lacks an integrated approach, and barely addresses the topic from a comparative perspective. This research seeks to fill this gap through an empirical, systematic, and comparative analysis of the integration and disintegration processes across the region. The argument is that the integration is asymmetric, both between the two international organizations and between the two sub-regions, and that Russian investment decreases as integration goes forward. Findings highlight the complex interactions and interdependencies of the three mutually exclusive processes: the integration into the EU and NATO, the internal fragmentation of the region, and a transformation in the relationship with Russia when chasing the enlargement into these structures.
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The Balkans are a special object of study in political science and international relations, particularly in the field of European integration. This is due to several historical, geopolitical and economic explanations. First, they are a point of refraction and even collision of different civilizations. Second, historically, the region has been under the multidirectional influence of several international interests. Third, from a geopolitical point of view, they are the closing link of the European security system, one of the most important areas of systematic confrontation between the Western and the Eastern world. Fourth, in geoeconomics, the region is an intersection of the main trade routes to and from Europe. Therefore, after the collapse of the state unification of Serbia and Montenegro – the final step of Yugoslavia’s dissolution –, each of its former republics pursued a single common goal: the integration into regional and global political, economic, military and strategic organizations, mainly the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Generally, International Organizations (IO) are crucial for the promotion of democracy and transparency (Costa & Ferrinho Lopes, forthcoming). In particular, these two IOs play a key role in the Balkans – more than any other international entity or agent (Gjana, 2013: 51-52).

European and Euro-Atlantic integration brings political, economic and social stability, as well as financial and even military support. In order to achieve this major goal of foreign policy, the internal political, economic and social reforms are largely subordinated to the conditions for the incorporation into these IOs. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the dynamics of Russian influence in the peninsula began to change due to the Balkans’ alignment with the West (Samokhvalov, 2019: 197-198).

Extant literature lacks an integrated approach. There are some studies on the EU enlargement theories (Schimmelfennig & Sedelemeier, 2002; Saurugger, 2013), on the alliance theories of expansion (Rauchhaus, 2000) and on the integration of a small set of countries into the EU or NATO (Alujević, 2012; Rękawek, 2013; Nikolova & Nikolaev, 2016). However, they do not entail a comparative approach between countries and IOs, leading scholars to fail in operationalizing a comprehensive analysis of the factors behind the fragmentation of the Balkans into Western and Eastern sub-regions, or even the relationship between the integration process and the reaction of their counterparts. The integration of these states is not only different both in time or length, but also in its correlates and consequences. Integration is thus asymmetrical, and only an integrated approach including all the pertinent cases can shed light on its differences. Furthermore, as far as this study acknowledges, political science has not described Russia’s reaction to this alignment in a global perspective that covers the entire picture. Therefore, the relevance and peculiarity of our chapter stem from an integrated overview and interpretation of the development and implementation of Western IOs’ integration strategies concerning all Balkan states. Seeking to fill this gap, this chapter brings a comprehensive analysis of the asymmetric integration of the Balkans into the EU and NATO. This comparative approach allows correlating integration and disintegration processes in the region, as well as an analysis of Russian-Balkan relations, not only with a focus on Serbia, but also Montenegro in the context of the ongoing integration processes in the region.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Western Balkans: A collective political term of the successor states of Yugoslavia and Albania.

Eastern Balkans: A collective political term for the countries of the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula, which are the first to access the EU and NATO.

European Integration: A process of industrial, political, legal, economic (also sometimes social and cultural) incorporation of states that are wholly or partially located in Europe into the European Union.

Asymmetric Integration: An uneven, in time, process of integration of the Balkan countries into such international organizations as the EU and NATO.

Enlargement Strategy: A set of consistent and interconnected activities that aim at expanding and engaging international organizations, such as the EU and NATO.

Euro-Atlantic Integration: A process of political and military inclusion of the European countries into the NATO.

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