Italy’s foreign policy has traditionally considered the Balkan region as a key area of political, economic and even cultural projection since its own unification process in the late 19th century. This made the history of Italy and of the Balkans increasingly, albeit often problematically, intertwined.
Involvement of international actors has been essential in resolving conflicts, rebuilding, and helping reconcile the Western Balkans in the last few decades. Throughout the 1990s, foreign intervention was meant to stop the bloodshed in the region after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, ending the wars in the region.
Imagine for a moment that the so-called Western Balkan countries were as rich and democratically consolidated as Switzerland, Norway or even tiny Iceland: would you doubt for a second that the EU leaders would not beg them to join the Union? Especially after Brexit has instilled so much impending doom into minds of the political class in Berlin, Paris and elsewhere. Accepting rich and politically straightforward new members would be a welcome remedy against Angst in the corridors of power throughout the continent!
The opening of the so-called Western Balkan route in the summer of 2015 brought the region back to our living rooms and to political boardrooms. One could sense relief and hope among those long advocating for increased efforts on the side of the EU for the Thessaloniki agenda to reach its finalité. Relief because it looked like the immense strains the refugee wave put on the countries along the route did not seem to endanger the regional stability still feared to be fragile.
The well-established cliché of the Balkans' long-term instability may just be sparring with an almost opposite concern. While the region has recently been experiencing rising instability, the West's political goal (or illusion?) of maintaining the status quo at any price may eventually result in a serious backlash.
Fourteen years have passed since the European Union-Western Balkan summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003 where the process know as the Thessaloniki Agenda was adopted confirming the EU accession perspective for the countries of the region. The language adopted was unequivocal: “The future of the Balkans is within the European Union”.
Political and economic prospects in the Western Balkans seemed promising in early 2000s, with countries leaning to the European Union for a prosperous future. Unfortunately, new and old Balkan problems are (re)emerging today, with political and ethnic divisions more entrenched than before due to poor economic performance, instability, corruption and lack of clear–cut prospects for the future. In the meantime, rising euroscepticism and "enlargement fatigue" in the EU have resulted into a stand–by of future enlargements.
Last year’s events further exacerbated and focused global attention on the same uncertainties already weighing on the past decade: from Brexit, and the ensuing uncertainty about the future of the UK-EU relations, to the ever-growing success of populist and nationalist movements across Europe; from the unnerving paralysis of the international community on the war in Syria to the new wave of terrorist attacks in Europe; from renewed political and economic crises in pivot countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Turkey to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections, which may turn out to be a new and momentous source of uncertainty, also casting doubts on the remaining resilience of multilateral cooperation.
The 2017 ISPI report aims to analyze how such uncertainties are spreading from last year’s events, but also to try to fathom deeper trends. The first part of the Report will focus on the overall development of the international scenario, both from a political and an economic standpoint. The second part will shift the spotlight to Italy, where global uncertainties overlap with deep internal uncertainties and vulnerabilities.
The deadlocked conflict between Russia and Ukraine remains, as of Spring 2017, the most direct challenge to security in Europe and the most powerful driver of the confrontation between Russia and the West. This confrontation is significantly different from the essentially static posture of the Cold War, from the late 1940s to the late 1970s, and it is the unique nature of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that determines many of the differences.