The European Union – Refugees and the Balkans

Valdon Bytyçi


The European Union is facing the most dangerous challenges since its existence. The war in Syria, terrorism, refugees, the Ukraine crisis and tensions in the Balkan countries have shaken and continue to shake the foundations of this unique organism and if it does not change its policies toward these struggle, it may become an additional page of an imaginary Atlantis. First of all, this union of states is fighting itself, which is bringing it back to the position of the last century. It is the last chance for the “Paper Tiger” to return to an active body and to be a model for others.


EUs “birthing” to Syrian Refugees

The European Union did not play its role

The tensions in Syria leading into a civil war, have found the EU totally unprepared and discordant in what was happening. The EU External Actions Services (EEAS), at that time headed by Baroness Catherine Ashton, failed to become a respective contribution factor and global actor in resolving international crises and global prevention.[1] It is clear that the Syrian regime had its agenda to involve the EU to take part in solving the crisis. Syria, once again unveiled the fragility of the EU, especially in foreign policies. The EU faced major powers, such as Russia and the US, but also faced challenges within its umbrella. Germany, France and Great Britain were negotiating unilaterally and quite separately from the EU. This situation made EU pale in order to act as a global player. Europeans were divided among themselves on the main directions of European policy facing the determinants of 'Merkel-ism'. Europe went wrong! If EU was more active in the given possibility to a mediation of the Syrian civil war Europe would not be flooded of the high numbers of refugees. Refugees brought the thorny walls in the “United Europe”, and thus destroyed castles and bridges that have been built for years. In context of the refugee crisis the propaganda of Islamophobia was rising. This spirit made sceptics grow and therefore citizens were losing trust into the EU. To some extent national governments are responsable for this non-confidence of the citizens towards the EU. States have been blocking against refugees because of the pressure resulting from the mistrust of its citicens.

Distrust has brought the states to a shutdown, insecurity and dissatisfaction. Britain has been hiding in its identity crisis; France, economically weak, has given up from its traditional efforts to mobilise the EU; Germany still seems to see the world through an economic prism. For Ukraine, the Middle East and most of North Africa, Brussels has become invisible. Focused on domestic politics, which has accompanied the "change of guardians", Europeans are awaiting the leadership of the USA, whether in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine (Europe), sanctions or for signing a coalition against the Islamic State. Even in crises such as those in Mali and the Central African Republic, Europe is collectively conspicuous for its absence. Ad hoc initiatives of some countries, like France, have tried to fill the void for the protection of their interests. European citizens should hope that this is the dark hour before the sun comes up, but it seems that this hope is not enough.[2]


Restoring walls in Europe

The war in Syria produced an enourmous number of refugees. Now, the EU is paying back for not contributing and for hiding from the Syrian war. This refugee influx highlighted the incompetence and the absence of the existence of the EU. This broad body has invoked the principles of diversity, solidarity and respect for human rights, such as basic freedom. Refugees are challenging the entire EU. The EU could not unify its members towards the resolution of the refugee crisis.

Because of these situations, member states came up with their individual positions, from the most hypocritical one of the Hungarian Government to the most humanist hospitality of the German Government. However not only Hungary placed barbed wire, but also many other countries, like Poland, acted in the same way.


From Gaddafi to Cologne
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi stated 2010 in Rome, that illegal migration will be a problem for Europe and offered help for an annual compensation of five billion euros. If he would not help, Gaddafi continued, Europe would turn into a “black Europe”, and the reaction of white Christian citizens could not be foreseen; but for sure refugees would change Europe.[3] This early warning encountered deaf ears and was not taken seriously by the EU. In the time of writing, the EU is almost on the verge of its demilitarisation and of its concept.
Next to refugees in need, there is assumed to be a mass flow of “false refugees”, who will change the political landscape of the EU and Europe in general. The crisis could cause the dissolution of the EU and to give strength to Euro-sceptic parties.[4] Currently we have already a new dimension of the refugee debate. Terrorist attacks in Paris, Istanbul and other potential countries in Europe have forced citizens and member state policies to change course. What happened on the night of New Year in the German city of Cologne has passed all limits and given the right to Euro-sceptics and those who advocated strikes against accepting refugees in Europe. Moreover Chancellor Angela Merkel now is facing the German internal pressure. Destabilisation of Germany is on the brink. Juveniles are vigil in different cities, like in Cologne. Great efforts must be undertaken to alter the circumstances significantly, otherwise clashes with authorities could reach a boiling point in civil society and this would lead to the emergence and mobilisation of people who increasingly follow organisations that have extreme right wing priorities. It might be the case that Germany and Europe is at the end of the era of “Merkel-ism”, and this could become visible by the reaction of coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
On the other side Gulf countries do not receive refugees! Surprise! Saudi Arabia has a very large territory and astronomical wealth but still does not receive refugees. The most modern camps for three million people are empty (those camps are only used for four to five days every year by pilgrims). And for the irony (hypocrisy), Saudi Arabia is willing to finance up to 200 mosques in order that newcomers in Germany could easily be integrated into Western society. From the European citizens we do not hear any declaration nor that the EU increases pressure on Saudi Arabia to receive any refugees.[5]

The EU should immediately call a joint meeting with its members to find individual efforts to merge into a collective solution for the refugee crisis. Additionally they should reconfigure the Union together with its values to generate a European Union what is not only a silent but an active protagonist. Ready to become a global player and not a spectator with “leaders as decoration”. EU should provide concrete alternatives to stay unified and not to pay the consequences caused by others. War in Syria has an unknown end, moreover the world is threatened constantly by numerous conflicts. The destination for many refugees is the EU. Therefore, the EU should come up with a concrete plan, urging all other countries, such as the Gulf States, the USA, Canada, Australia, Russia and other countries in order to fulfil their responsibilities towards the refugee crisis. It can be believed that the EU has the capacity to accommodate perhaps the largest number of refugees but also other countries, especially those of the Gulf, can give a great contribution. One good step is the EU assistance provided for Turkey, in keeping refugees and creating the best possible conditions for them. If Europe manages to solve the refugee crisis this would restore peace to the citizens, the hope and confidence in the common European values. This would reshape the EU from within and will carry out its strength. The European Union should realign the member states on its strategic objectives.



“An even more terrible Balkans, called Europe, views Balkans with disdain!”
(Egon Erwin Kisch, Journalist. Montenegro, 1913)

EUs Achilles heel

The Balkans, always has been neglected from Europe meaning that security and peace have been self-understood!? But the situation in praxis does not show the same! The Balkan region can be a political powder keg again. Balkan countries have not forgotten their past and remember it every day from the discourse of today's leaders of the formal enemies. Today, Western Balkans countries are running and competing by threatening and are not excessive if it is said that they are fighting with each other.

Recent expressed tensions between Croatia and Serbia, then those between Serbia and Kosovo to Greece blockings Macedonia are nothing else than the recent delay of the EU and its failure in the Balkans. Europe is acting sluggish and seems to neglect the history of potential security risks emanating from the Balkans. Germany through its Chancellor had announced the possibility of escalation of the situation in the Balkans in a potential new arising conflict and asked for everyone´s commitment to help. Saying that this conflict will not only come as a result of the refugees. Such a conflict can be initiated by the refugee crisis.[6] The call was heard to some extent when the EU decided to financially support these countries but this call is not sufficiently understood and demand for aid to the Balkans lost its voice, failing to give impetus of the region towards integration.

Balkans, especially some of the Western Balkan countries were very enthusiastic about the process and the significant help of Brussels towards the integration into the EU. But, despite this new EU-establishment, Brussels said clearly and directly that there will not be expansion of the EU for a long time. Such a conclusion was made even by European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, he clearly specified that in the next five years the EU will not be have another expansion.[7] Adding to this the increasing bureaucratic procedures in the EU are overcrowded. Against this backdrop a possible membership of a Balkan country could come into play somewhere after 2020!


Will the Balkans wait?

This question should be answered by the European Union itself. EU should understand that it is the last moment for Europe to consider the Balkan countries seriously. The way the EU works today is not adequate in relation to the challenges, threats and risks presented directly to it. Therefore, this body should strengthen itself and should integrate the Balkan countries under its umbrella. Even though it is not the same case, but the EU should not presume a second mistake on the Balkans, as it did with Ukraine.[8]

The European Union should believe in greater integration in order to avoid these threatening challenges. Balkan countries in EU would lead to a more unique and effective foreign policy. Europe has a multitude of advantages and it is now essential time to put this advantages in function.[9] In normal conditions the EU's behavior is understandable, because it should not make concessions to those countries which do not meet the necessary criteria to advance in the process of EU integration. Bearing in mind the lessons learned from the European Union itself in the case of Bulgaria and Romania it seems that they do not meet all standards to be a member of this organisation.

On the other hand, we should not forget that the enlargement process is not only the obligation of the candidate countries to meet a set of laws and European norms. It is about the importance of the process of building sustainable peace in Europe, as in its center as well as in the other parts. In addition, EU enlargement is of geostrategic importance. Because the EU has not included Balkan countries under its umbrella, this fact has irritated many supportive forces. On the other hand, this has discouraged the political leaders in the Western Balkan countries, who do not rush to meet the requirements of the EU on time when no one knows what will happen with the enlargement, or knowing that in five coming years will not happen anything. So political leaders in the Balkan countries have not developed enough sense of responsibility and sense for the time after their period in office. Apparently, political leaders in the Balkans are not interested in their countries to advance towards the EU. This could happen only when it brings them personal benefits, whether by increasing their popularity among voters or through material benefits.

This restriction made by the EU in the Balkans, has given impetus to radical religious currents. The EU is indirectly guilty but aware of the consequences. Offices of the European Commission for the Balkans have failed to help enough in the democratisation and development of the Balkan countries and that they did not know (or not heard) in Brussels to convey a message about what is needed in the Balkans. Kosovo is clearly the case where it can be argued that the EU failed with its European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). Blackmailing, corruption and political liquidation of certain persons already are (not) investigated by the EU. Another case is Macedonia, which is in a deep political crisis and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn is failing to come up with a consensual solution. In a similar crisis is Kosovo. Serbia on the other hand, is doing well in diplomacy for 'two chairs': It is holding elections and is claiming to strengthen its position even more towards Western countries. While the structures of Bosnia-Herzegovina do not function adequately, and the Serbian Republic (Republika Srpska) each and every day is raising its voice to get divided. These are some of the initial possible symptoms but will deepen next to the current Balkan politics.

Such an atmosphere has led to a great increase in the Balkans civil discontent against the political elite and to the EU itself. And the results of this complex situation without any hope are high corruption, extreme poverty and insufficient implementation of law and order. They have enabled numerous organisations also susceptible to operate for a long time in the Balkans. These organisations in one way or another have replaced the state, offering to citizens of this region what should have been provided by their states. In addition, these organisations with their leaders for many years have tongue-tied citizens with jihadist propaganda material. And now the Balkans is one of the regions where the most soldiers for the Islamic State are recruited. Unfortunately, this is still continuing. Balkan countries cannot stop their citizens of getting involved in this war and so these countries are producing many jihadists that in future would be a risk not only for the Balkans but for all of Europe. This risk is already proven. EU has to be blamed for a part of this vicious circle. Putting all the blame on the EU is wrong because in the Balkans other interests are tightly interwoven: such as the US, but recently the Russian ones, especially after the annexation of Crimea. Yet the EU still does not bear responsibility for political action, for failing to play its role in the Balkans.

Hunting season in the Balkans

Russia's aggressiveness is already escalating conflict between the state and the West, and this is the inevitable possibility of having repercussions in the Balkans.[10] From icy Moscow no one can be expected to play a positive role in the Balkans, but it will be the opposit, to create more problems in the EU and NATO.[11] Therefore, EU and NATO have to rush to the Balkans. The Western Balkans is a region surrounded by the EU. It is no coincidence that only Albania and Montenegro have joined the EU decision on sanctions against Russia because of the situation in Ukraine. Albania had no other option, because it is already a member of NATO, and also agrees with the policy of the Western Allies. In this context Montenegro has shown great courage, especially considering that Russian influence in this small country has been huge. But Serbia has not joined the common position of the EU in this case, although such a thing is essential for political progress by each candidate.

Serbia's policy "we are with the EU and Russia" can only be understood in those circumstances where the EU and Russia have good cooperation with each other. And soon the EU should ask from Serbia to take its position and demonstrate how seriously it is committed to European integration. Serbia's position is very important because it has a great impact in two countries, in a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo. In Bosnia-Herzegovina the leader of the Serb entity, Milorad Dodik, has wished a "Crimean Scenario" to join Russia. He sees the Crimea example that his entity should follow to secede from Bosnia-Herzegovina and join Serbia. Serbia is expected to clearly distance itself from such policies of Dodik in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Kosovo as a result of dialogue nothing important can be done without the consent of Belgrade, which will have extraordinary internal developments in Kosovo by imposing the list of its Serb representatives in the Kosovo institutions at central and local levels. If Belgrade will play a destructive role there are many tools at hand to do so. And it can send a direct threat to destabilise the entire Balkan region and beyond. Serbia with its political movements, free trade and especially with military is allowing room for Russian power and influence in the Balkans. Military joint manoeuvres between Serbia, Russia and Belarus only confirm the presence of Russia in the region.[12] It is significant to point out that after the accession of Albania and Croatia in NATO, Serbia has declared its armed forces neutral. This means that Serbia doesn’t want to be part of NATO, moreover it is running in purchasing weapons with its neighbour Croatia.

The EU and NATO have no more time to waste in the region. Without having to give up their basic principles, such as rule of law, respect for the principles of democracy, they should speed up with some processes. EU should quickly give a positive recommendation to Albania for the opening of chapters. In Bosnia-Herzegovina should be imposed constitutional reforms to shape a functional infrastructure and to fix the process towards EU and NATO. The EU should sign visa abolition agreement with Kosovo as soon as possible. Serbia and Montenegro should continue negotiations with Belgrade's insistence on not playing a double game. Greece must be pressured to abandon the blockade of Macedonia to join NATO, especially knowing that Skopje has met all the conditions years ago.

On the other side the EU must be consistent in finding how the political crisis in Macedonia can be resolved. While it's necessary to build a new relation with Turkey as it is an important geostrategic country. Summits, like the Berlin one, and now Vienna must be concrete in terms of realizing the expectations of the Balkan citizens. So far, these meetings have served with many files. This is one of the ways that the European Union will change its approach to the Balkans. This will turn hope and confidence for the citizens of the region. It would also simultaneously strengthen EU foreign policy by cutting this part of the region from the effects of radical currents and serious threat from Russia. EU should focus more on results than on bureaucratic procedures. The European Union without Balkan will always be threatened - but with Balkan will be safe and more durable.


The world in which we live today faces a variety of risks and threats. These threats have their roots in different origins and build obstacles to the European Union. The European Union, actually an excellent and unique model to follow, is being undermined by the challenges refugee crisis and other crisis like Syria, in particular the Russian invasion in Ukraine. Refugees and the Ukrainian crisis should not be able to weaken the strength of the EU. It should be immune against such risks. The EU will show a common policy on global responsibilities and will expand itself in the Balkans and will restructure again. With an enlarged EU it will regain its strength and become a substantial global factor.


[1]Compare Internet document: ‘Diplomacia e BE-së me Sirinë, në harresë’-‘’ EU diplomacy with Syria, forgotten’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[2] Compare Internet document: Pikëpamje për Europën:Koha për realpolitik në politikën e jashtme të BE-së’-‘’ The outlook for Europe:Time for real politik ferign policy of the EU’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[3] Compare Internet document: ‘Gaddafi wants EU cash to stop African migrants’, accessed 12th February 2016

[4] Compare Internet document: ‘Kriza e “refugjatëve” do të ndryshojë Evropën’ –‘’Crise of “refugeess “will change the Europe’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[5] Compare Internet document: ‘Kriza e “refugjatëve” do të ndryshojë Evropën’ Crise of “refugeess “will change the Europe, accessed 12th February 2016

[6] Compare Internet document: ‘Ballkani nuk është aq stabil sa duket’ –‘’The Balkan is not as stable as it seems’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[7] Compare Internet document: ‘Viti 2014 nuk solli kthesë në rrugën e Ballkanit drejt BE-së’-‘’The year 2014 did not bring the Balkan bend in the rad toward the EU’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[8] Compare Internet document: ‘Ballkani duket më i bukur kur shikohet nga Brukseli’ –‘’Balkan look more beautiful when viewd from Bruksel’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[9] Compare Internet document: ‘Një Evropë për botën’ – “One Europe for world”, accessed 12th February 2016

[10] Compare Internet document: ‘Nuk e lexoi keq Perëndimi Putinin, por ai e lexoi mirë Perëndimin’ –‘’West did not read wrong Putin, but he read the best West’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[11] Compare Internet document: ‘Doktrina e re e sigurisë së Perëndimit duke e parë Rusinë si kërcënim’- ‘’The new security doctrine of the West saw Russia as a threat’’, accessed 12th February 2016

[12] Compare Internet document: ‘Western Balkans Region and the Geopolitical Context’ http://www.fes, accessed 12th February 2016