Western Balkans: how to coordinate the Belt and Road Initiative with EU’s enlargement plan


(1.Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

【Abstract】Against the backdrop of intensifying global protectionism, a stable China-EU relationship serves as the precondition for the steady development of the Belt and Road Initiative in the Europe. When China and the EU meet in the Western Balkans, whether they will engage in regional competition or deepen cooperation will have a great bearing on the future evolution of their relationship. Based on analysis of the EU’s strategy in the Western Balkans and China’s Belt and Road projects in the same region, the paper argues that China’s investment and China-financed infrastructure projects play a positive role in pushing the Western Balkans to join the EU. Chinese funds and technologies not only promote the livelihood of the people in the region, but help integrate the regional transport and energy networks into the existing Trans-European Transport Network and Pan-European Corridors. In addition, there exists ample room for China and the EU to further their cooperation in terms of norms, standards, funding and planning.

【Keywords】 Western Balkans; Belt and Road ; EU;


Download this article


    [1]. ① In the EU documents of the late 20th century, the Western Balkans included Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania, and the Kosovo region. Since Croatia joined the EU in 2013, the Western Balkans in the following EU documents mainly refers to six actors including Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. It can be seen that the identity of the EU and the identity of the Western Balkans are mutually exclusive in the EU discourse, and joining the EU will automatically break away from the identity of the Western Balkans. However, since the analysis of the relationship between the Western Balkans and the EU involves the policies before 2013, Croatia is still regarded as a member state of the Western Balkans in this paper. [^Back]

    [2]. ② The use of the term “Western Balkans” is still controversial. In the eyes of some scholars, the EU uses its say in the Continental Europe to shape this region into a region different from the EU. For example, Todorova believed that although the “Western Balkans” was a neutral geographical concept literally, it carried too many historical connotations in the political and cultural contexts. Affected by the EU, Chinese scholars have recently used “Western Balkans” to replace the concepts of Central Europe and Southeast Europe that were previously used. Since this paper uses a lot of official or academic literature from the EU, the concept of “Western Balkans” is applied in this paper. Please refer to Maria Todorova, Imaging the Balkans, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996; Pål Kolstø, “‘Western Balkans’ as the New Balkans: Regional Names as Tools for Stigmatisation and Exclusion,” Europe-Asia Studies, 68: 7, 1245–1263, 2016. [^Back]

    [3]. ① European Commission, “European Union, Trade in Goods with Western Balkans 6,” April 2018, http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2006/september/tradoc_111477.pdf[2018-08-25] [^Back]

    [4]. ② When Jean-Claude Juncker became the president of the European Commission in 2014, he announced that no new country would join the EU during his five-year term. Juncker’s temporary refusal to the Western Balkans was due to his understanding that there were other more important issues within the EU that needed to be resolved, and that the Western Balkans could not complete the accession negotiations within five years. Nowadays, Junker’s judgment has been proved, but the appeasement policy of EU on its marginal areas has once again been revealed. [^Back]

    [5]. ③ European Commission, “A Credible Enlargement Perspective for and Enhanced EU Engagement with the Western Balkans,” February 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/communication-credible-enlargement-perspective-western-balkans_en.pdf[2018-08-18] [^Back]

    [6]. ④ Ian Manners, “Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?,” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 40 (2): 235–58, 2002. [^Back]

    [7]. ① For example, the EU has been criticizing in recent years that Montenegro’s democratic transition is not thorough enough, which restricts media freedom and interferes with the administration of justice. The ruling foundation of Milo Đukanović, the father of the Montenegro’s Independence, is very solid, and the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro has long dominated. Although the political power structure in Montenegro shows signs of loosening in the current general election, the rotation of different political parties has not yet been achieved. [^Back]

    [8]. ② Zuo, Y. Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies (俄罗斯东欧中亚研究), (6): 58 (2013). [^Back]

    [9]. ③ It is worth noting that the countries involved in sharing this part of the funds include Turkey in addition to the six members of the Western Balkans. Besides, Turkey offers more than one-third of the total aid funds. For specific country-specific annual budgets, please refer to https://ec.europa.eu/ neighbourhood-enlargement/instruments/funding-by-country_en [2018-08-30]. [^Back]

    [10]. ④ European Structural & Investment Funds, https://cohesiondata.ec.europa.eu/dataset/Total- allocations-of-Cohesion-Policy-2014-2020-Bre/nvqb-bd9b [2018-08-30] [^Back]

    [11]. ① Kong, H. Chinese Journal of European Studies (欧洲研究), (4): 7–8 (2014). [^Back]

    [12]. ① The project information and specific data of Chinese enterprises in the Western Balkans are from the author’s interviews with local Chinese enterprises in the Western Balkans. If not specifically marked, the data are obtained through interviews. [^Back]

    [13]. ② According to the Serbian office of CRBC, since 2010, Serbia has made many revisions to its legal system, and has basically achieved full alignment with the EU law. Among them, the construction law has been changed seven times, the planning law has been changed twelve times, and the labor law has been changed every year. This has posed a challenge for enterprises to adapt to the frequently changing standard system in the local areas. [^Back]

    [14]. ① The Economic and Commercial Counsellor’s Office of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Serbia: “Serbia Public Debt in June 2018,” http://yu.mofcom.gov.cn/ article/ztdy/201808/20180802777768.shtml [2018-08-29]. [^Back]

    [15]. ① European Commission, “European Union, Trade in Goods with China,” April 2018, http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2006/september/tradoc_113366.pdf [2018-08-25]. [^Back]

    [16]. ② “Merkel Warns Against China’s Influence in Balkans,” https://www.scmp.com/news/china/ diplomacy-defence/article/2134196/merkel-warns-against-chinas-influence-balkans [2018-08-08]. [^Back]

    [17]. ③ Thorsten Benner et al. “Authoritarian Advance: Responding to China’s Growing Political Influence in Europe,” Global Public Policy Institute & Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin, February 2018. [^Back]

    [18]. ④ “Berlin Calls for a ‘One-Europe Policy’,” https://www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/news/ detail/7382/ [2018-08-30]. [^Back]

    [19]. ① North Macedonia suspended the “Kichevo-Ohrid” and “Skopje-Stip” sections built by the Chinese enterprises in 2017, which led to speculation in the international media that there might be corruption among local subcontractors. Please refer to Michal Makocki and Zoran Nechev, “Balkan Corruption: the China Connection,” European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), Paris, July, 2017. [^Back]

    [20]. ② Thorsten Benner et al., “Authoritarian Advance: Responding to China’s Growing Political Influence in Europe,” Global Public Policy Institute & Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin, February 2018. [^Back]

    [21]. ③ Jens Bastian, The Potential for Growth Through Chinese Infrastructure Investments in Central and South-Eastern Europe Along the “Balkan Silk Road,” Report prepared for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Athens/London, July 2017. [^Back]

    [22]. ① Noah Barkin, “Chinese ‘Highway to Nowhere’ Haunts Montenegro,” 16 July 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-silkroad-europe-montenegro-insi/'chinese-highway-to-nowhere-haunts-montenegro-idUSKBN1K60QX [2018-08-29]. [^Back]

    [23]. ② Bushra Bataineh, Michael Bennon, and Francis Fukuyama, “How the West Surrendered Global Infrastructure Development to China,” Foreign Affairs, 22-05-2018. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ articles/china/2018-05-21/beijings-building-boom [2018-08-15]. [^Back]

    [24]. ① Since the Hungarian section of the Hungary-Serbia high-speed railway is in the EU, the open bidding of the project needs to be supervised by the relevant EU institutions. The European Commission once investigated the financial viability of the project, which resulted in the situation that the official bid for this project had not started until the end of November 2017. [^Back]

    [25]. ① García-Herrero, A., “Other than Climate Change, Can Anything Else Unite Europe and China Against Trump,” Bruegel blog post, 2 June 2017, http://bruegel.org/2017/06/other-than-climate- change-can-anything-else-unite-europe-and-china-against-trump/ [2018-08-24]. [^Back]

    [26]. ② https://ec.europa.eu/transport/sites/transport/files/2018-07-13-european-transport-infrastructure- projects.pdf [2018-09-03]. [^Back]

This Article


CN: 11-3799/F

Vol , No. 05, Pages 78-90+6

September 2018


Article Outline


  • 1 From Yugoslavia to the Western Balkans: an unfinished economic recovery
  • 2 EU’s strategy in the Western Balkans: upgrading norms to drive connectivity
  • 3 Belt and Road in the Western Balkans: standard alignment driven by infrastructure connectivity
  • 4 Cooperation or competition: the tension between Belt and Road and EU’s strategy
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Footnote