Global Europe Brief: Western Balkan faultlines

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EU foreign ministers were scheduled to hold a debate with and about the Western Balkans during their meeting next Monday, but it has been moved to the next meeting in May.

The region that has been on the back burner for so long may be back with a vengeance – making headlines again, thanks to a controversial non-paper proposing a redrawing of borders along ethnic lines.

Asked about why the Western Balkans debate has been postponed, a senior EU official told EURACTIV that such a debate would require an in-person meeting, instead of a video link.

This is why we need a good and rich debate – and we think that that debate should be in person,” he said, adding that in May the set-up will be a “very frank and open discussion” among foreign ministers, with input from Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak, member states and regional leaders.

“The situation in the Western Balkans is evolving in different directions, but not all of them are positive,” the EU official told EURACTIV.

Meanwhile, a phantom document proposing controversial border changes across the Western Balkans caused a political storm in the region and in Brussels this week.

While most EU officials had little knowledge of the elusive document, the office of European Council President Charles Michel could not deny receiving it.

→ For our in-depth look into the Western Balkan border controversy, look here:

Michel silent over unofficial document mulling border changes in Western Balkans

A phantom document proposing controversial border changes across the Western Balkans caused a political storm in the region and in Brussels this week. While most EU officials had little knowledge of the elusive document, the office of European Council President Charles Michel could not deny receiving it.  EURACTIV took a closer look


UKRAINE DIPLOMACY. After Kyiv and Moscow traded blame over the worsening situation in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine was able to mobilise its Western allies at political level.

NATO is “seriously concerned” by the largest massing of Russian “combat-ready troops” on Ukraine’s borders after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier had called an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC). The meeting was supposed to take place in a few weeks time but was brought forward, NATO diplomats told EURACTIV.

“There are no formal discussions in the EU right now on sanctions vs Russia over the Ukraine situation”, a senior EU official told reporters just ahead of the EU foreign affairs ministers meeting on Monday.

Baltic ministers called for ‘red lines’ towards Russia in their Kyiv trip, as some member states are increasingly voicing concerns over the anticipatory stance of the EU’s policy and whether Brussels is ready to keep their diplomatic promises if the situation escalates further.

At the same time, it unfortunately seems that Ukraine promises to become the next internal foreign policy battleground between the EU institutions.

The incident during a meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now covered in dust, but European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen landed her very own diplomatic error. This time, by declining an official invitation to visit Ukraine, just as Kyiv is desperate for Western support against Russia.

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is taking a dangerous gamble, internally and externally. On the one hand, he is slowly killing his political opponent Alexei Navalny in a Gulag-type establishment. On the other, he is creating conditions for a spark to ignite a military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, writes Georgi Gotev.

SUMMIT COMPETITION. The ghost of the 2018 Helsinki summit is making its rounds this week and has moved a few countries to answer calls by the US. After US President Joe Biden proposed a face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin so that the estranged leaders could tackle a raft of disputes, both Prague and Vienna offered to host a summit between the two nuclear powers.

SOFA-HATCHET. EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held their first talks earlier this week since a diplomatic gaffe in Turkey — dubbed “Sofa-gate” — laid bare tensions between the bloc’s major institutions.

Michel, the European Council president, Michel missed a few good chances in Ankara. But despite his apology tour, where he tried to frame the ‘Sofa-gate’ incident as a diplomatic snub rather than a sexist move towards a female leader, this musical chair mishap will mark his mandate, which is up for evaluation in less than a year.

HEATED EXCHANGE. Foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey clashed on a wide range of issues during a heated news conference that underscored the trouble the two historic rivals will have at mending their broken ties. Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias had an explicit order if provoked by his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, to respond accordingly, diplomatic sources in Athens have said.

HALLOUMI PEACE? Cyprus has been split into two parts ever since Turkey invaded and occupied the northern area of the island in 1974. The importance of the freshly awarded EU protection for halloumi cheese goes beyond its food implication: key political actors have seen it as a historic opportunity to enhance economic cooperation and bring the two national communities in Cyprus closer.

EU-INDIA. Portugal has said it hopes to resume negotiations on trade and investment between the EU and India at a summit between EU leaders and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Porto on 8 May.

“Things are changing, India is a big country and a key strategic actor who looks for a new relationship. This is what the EU enters into the picture, and we’re happy that India wants to raise the level of partnership with us,” a senior EU official told reporters.

OECD DATA. Development aid from the EU increased by more than 25% last year as funding for programmes to combat COVID-19 and support poorer countries surged, according to data published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

COTONOU TREATY. The EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific Community this week finalised the successor to the Cotonou agreement, bringing close to two and a half years of negotiations and repeated delays.

At the heart of the pact is the promise of greater political dialogue and development cooperation. It also includes text on security and migration, one of the most controversial issues throughout the talks, including new commitments from the ACP countries on return and re-admission of failed economic migrants. It also includes text on agreeing “circular migration” and legal pathways.


GERMAN PRESENCE. Washington announced this week it will ramp up its forces by 500  additional troops in Germany amid the latest tensions with Russia over Ukraine, in a reversal of former President Donald Trump’s plans to cut by a third troops in the fellow NATO country.

Biden’s move is seen as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Germany and European NATO allies, which also fills a practical need that commanders in Europe had identified months ago.

LONGEST WAR. Foreign troops under NATO command will withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with a US pull-out by 11 September, NATO allies agreed in an emergency meeting this week, pledging to mirror American plans to start removing troops on 1 May after two decades of war.

While there was broad agreement in the alliance on the move, Czech President Miloš Zeman said he considers the US and NATO decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan a mistake.

FIGHTER TALKS. German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will next week discuss with her French counterpart Florence Parly the behind-schedule Franco-German combat jet project as well as tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

While two parallel efforts to develop Europe’s next-generation fighter jets are making progress, this Franco-German-Spanish co-op recently looked increasingly like it is stalling, having been caught in a spat between participants and political realities.


HACKING SOLIDARITY. The EU voiced support for the United States over cyber-attacks it has suffered, including a major hack blamed on Russia, as Washington imposed new sanctions on Moscow.


EXPANDED POWERS. Voters in Kyrgyzstan granted sweeping powers to President Sadyr Japarov last weekend in a constitutional referendum that will also allow him to run for re-election, preliminary results showed.



Europe’s everyday business is still stuck in lockdown reality, until further notice. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as we enter a busy spring period.

  • China’s Xi to join climate talks with Merkel, Macron
    | Friday, 16 April 2021 | videolink
  • EU foreign affairs ministers meet on Ukraine, Ethiopia
    | Monday, 19 April 2021 | videolink
  •  Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany delegates hold talks on Ukraine conflict
    | Monday, 19 April 2021 | Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Putin delivers state of the nation address to Duma
    | Wednesday, 21 April 2021 | Moscow, Russia
  • US President Joe Biden hosts virtual climate summit
    | Thursday, 22 April 2021 | video link

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