On 9 and 10 July 2018, the UK will host the fifth annual Western Balkans Summit, under the auspices of the Berlin Process. This inter-governmental forum, which brings together key EU Member States and the leaders of the six countries that make up the Western Balkans (WB6), was set up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014 to accelerate the Western Balkans’ journey towards EU accession.
This region has come a long way. In the 1990s, it witnessed some of the worst violence in Europe since the Second World War. However, the problems that have hindered its progress towards peace and prosperity—organised crime, corruption and authoritarianism—have not gone away. Some experts believe they are getting worse and that outside actors such as Russia are willing and able to exacerbate the situation. This, coupled with some EU Member States’ reluctance to admit new members, means that the WB6’s path to EU membership will be long and halting. In the light of this, it is important that the UK and its EU and NATO partners remain engaged in the Western Balkans. It will, however, take a long time to make a substantive difference.
The Government told us that the Summit in July is indicative of the UK’s long-term commitment to the Western Balkans. The UK has long championed EU accession for the WB6 and the Government have told us that this will not change after Brexit. We welcome this commitment. However, there is a risk that UK leverage in the region will be reduced if it is no longer involved in the EU accession process. We are therefore calling on the Government to explain its vision for an independent UK role in the Western Balkans, to clarify what it wants to achieve in the region and to explain how it plans to get there. We also call on the Government, as host, to push for the Summit to adopt a robust set of commitments that can make a real difference in the Western Balkans.
The Government told us that working with the Berlin Process partners on the Western Balkans’ reform agenda helps to prove that the UK is not stepping back from its commitments as a global power. We welcome this signal of Global Britain in practice and we believe that the Berlin Process offers lessons for UK diplomacy post-Brexit.
Published: 6 July 2018