Wednesday

23rd Oct 2019

Germany urges EU to rival China in Western Balkans

  • Heiko Maas said Chinese money, unlike EU funds, came with no strings attached (Photo: Council of the EU)

The EU and US have voiced concern on Chinese and Russian influence in the Balkans as the region's countries prepare to move closer to Western bloc.

China could replace the EU as a major player in the region, German foreign minister Heiko Maas told the Bundestag in a speech on Wednesday (12 September).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • James Mattis (c): 'The kind of of mischief that Russia has practiced ... it's always beyond the pale' (Photo: defense.gov)

"It's important that we offer these [Western Balkan] countries a European perspective, and a reliable one, because they're otherwise turning to other countries, such as China, which are already ready and don't have the values we have," Maas told MPs.

"That's why it's important for us to remain consistent and reliable," he said.

"Europe can export stability, as we have done with the successive enlargements of our union," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs in a wide-ranging speech in Strasbourg the same day.

"We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans - once and for all ... should we not, our immediate neighbourhood will be shaped by others," he said, without naming which "others" he meant.

The remarks come ahead of Macedonia's referendum on a name deal with Greece on 30 September that could unlock its EU and Nato membership bids.

They also come amid an emerging land-swap deal between Kosovo and Serbia that could clear the way to their EU accession.

EU and Nato leaders have flocked to Skopje in recent days to show support for its pro-European government.

US defence chief James Mattis is also planning to visit, but warned that Russia could try to spoil progress.

"I'm going there to make very clear we stand with the Macedonian people," he told press in Washington on Tuesday.

"I'm concerned about it [Russian meddling]. I think that democracies should be left alone," he added.

"If their ambassador wants to make a statement in the paper, that's one thing, but the kind of of mischief that Russia has practiced from Estonia to the United States, from Ukraine and now to Macedonia, it always is adapted to the specific situation and it's always beyond the pale," he said.

Greece recently expelled Russian diplomats accused of plotting unrest in order to destabilise the Macedonia name accord.

Montenegro, last year, accused Russia of trying to stage a coup to stop its Nato entry, which went ahead anyway.

Russia's ally in Bosnia, Serb leader Miroslav Dodik, is also on the EU watchlist for his destabilising calls for secession by the Serb entity in the Bosnian federation, Republika Srpska, ahead of elections there on 30 October.

But Germany's concerns on Chinese influence are linked to Beijing's heavy investment in infrastructure, energy, real estate, and mergers and acquisitions, rather than dirty tricks.

Chinese investment in Bosnia alone topped $3bn (€2.6bn) in 2016 and 2017.

It was over $1bn in Serbia and counted in the hundreds of millions in Albania and Montenegro, compared to some €1bn/year in EU financial aid and €2bn/yr in corporate investment for the whole region in recent times.

The latest warnings come after French leader Emmanuel Macron named Turkey as another EU regional competitor in April.

Turkey has become the third largest investor in Kosovo after spending €340m to buy an airport and an energy firm.

It has also spent a similar amount in Bosnia on rebuilding mosques and Ottoman-era monuments.

"I don't want a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia," Macron said in April.

"European countries that claim to be the cradles of democracy have failed, European Turks must show their strength to the whole world," Erdogan told a rally in Sarajevo in May.

Focus

Trump chaos breeds better EU-China relations

The EU has encouraged China to take a leading role in fighting the new US protectionism - but has also insisted that Beijing needs to reform and needs to be fairer to European investors and traders.

'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

At the first summit in 15 years with Western Balkan leaders, EU chiefs made it clear that enlargement is not at hand - but offered economic incentives to keep the region close to the bloc.

Analysis

France and Germany hope to revive EU with Aachen treaty

In the face of attacks on the liberal world order and the EU, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron renew German-Franco cooperation - but their lack of political capital prevents bold visions or ambitious goals.

Vestager says 'no' to Siemens-Alstom mega-merger

The EU blocked the merger of the makers of Germany's ICE and France's TGV trains, citing concerns of reduced competition and extra costs for consumers and taxpayers. The two countries now want to change the rules.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs criticise Juncker over climate and tax policies
  2. Juncker defends commission record on Greek crisis
  3. Croatian MEP criticises EU parliament for trusting Šuica
  4. Brexit is waste of time and energy, says Juncker
  5. Abortion and same-sex marriage become legal in Northern Ireland
  6. Germany wants internationally controlled zone in Syria
  7. EU parliament refuses to debate Catalonia
  8. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. EU open to imminent Brexit extension, Tusk indicates
  2. EU centrists ally with far right on migrant rescues
  3. MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal
  4. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  5. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  6. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  7. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  8. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us