EU-US must win hearts and minds in Western Balkans


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Turkey’s approach to democracy and the rule of law are “deeply problematic” to the country’s future cooperation with the European Union.

“These deep differences of opinion relate to basic questions of democracy and the rule of law. They relate to freedom of expression in Turkey. They also relate to the many journalists that have been jailed for expressing their opinion,” Merkel told the German parliament.

Merkel will emphasize the centrality of democratic institutions and liberal values to the transatlantic relationship during a visit to Washington, DC, this week. For instance, the US and the EU face a growing crisis in the Western Balkans, observers suggest.

The Balkan wars of the 1990s seem like a distant memory. But the possibility of renewed crisis in the region is growing and may soon impose new demands on US policy, according to Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic, the NED’s Senior Program Officer for Southeastern Europe.

Ever since the 1990s post-Yugoslav wars, two main factors have helped stabilize the western Balkans — the five ex-Yugoslav states that have not yet joined the EU, plus Albania, The Financial Times reports:

  • One was the prospect, however distant, of joining the EU. This has encouraged democratizing reforms. The hope has been that EU membership would ultimately cement reconciliation between the peoples of the Balkans, as it did between France and Germany and other second world war foes.
  • The other stabilizing force was US support, and the assumption that the US or Nato would intervene if conflict were to re-emerge — as they did in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999.

“The best way to undermine Moscow’s propaganda and the prospect of Russian ‘little green men’ making mischief in the western Balkans is for the EU and US to remain committed to winning hearts and minds in the region,” the FT adds.

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