The EU-Western Balkans Summit has started in London for those countries in the region that are not yet members but are on the path of European integration: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, as well as some of the neighboring countries that have their own interests in the region and are already members of the EU: Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. This summit will be the fifth after Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Trieste under the Berlin Process — a diplomatic initiative launched by Angela Merkel in 2014, the main idea of which is to achieve more effective cooperation between the Balkan nations and the EU.
Realizing the paradox of the situation, the British authorities attempted to pre-empt questions about the relevance of London's leading role in the European integration of third countries by publishing on its official website a message that the UK is interested in the strengthening, stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans beyond its exit from the European Union.
British Ambassador to Serbia Denis Keefe explained that his country is leaving the European Union, but it's not abandoning Europe, and it's not abandoning those values and interests that it has shared with it for tens or even hundreds of years. In his Twitter feed he retweeted the following post on the Western Balkans Summit:
Why London? Why UK? #WB6inLondon #WBsummitLondon is a continuation of decades of deep engagement of United Kingdom with partners in #WesternBalkans. Cross/border issues like security, digital economy know no borders and UK is well positioned to give support to #WB6 partners & EU. https://t.co/2mKL4ksFbF— Berlin Process WB6 (@BerlinProcess) July 9, 2018
Sinisa Lepojevic, who has worked for many years as a special correspondent for Serbian media in the UK, told Sputnik why London is so concerned about the progress of Western Balkan nations on their way to the EU.
"The Balkans, and namely those Balkan countries that are not EU members, remain the only space where the British can "flex their muscles", because they will exit the EU in March 2019. They need a presence in this part of Europe, because after Brexit, London will have nothing but NATO and the Western Balkans," Lepojevic explained.
According to him, this is the case, as was the announcement of sending 40 extra British troops to Bosnia & Herzegovina to prevent Russian interference in the October elections there, of some sort of PR, a political bluff. Lepojevic believes that hosting the Western Balkans Summit should be translated from the language of diplomatic symbols as an attempt by Britain to show that "it is still in the game," especially with regard to the unstable Balkan region.
The expert also notes that the London summit is organized superficially: it does not have the main theme, the agenda is built around "common interests" in the economic sphere, politics and security issues. Lepojevic said that the participants of the summit were contacted via the Internet and were asked to contribute to the organization of the meeting by offering ideas for discussion. Based on the information that has appeared in recent days, Lepojevic believes that the event will mainly focus on the Macedonian treaty with Greece, which will be presented as an example of cooperation between the Western Balkan countries.
According to Lepojevic, the main motivation for the UK to host a summit under the Berlin process, despite formally being no longer a part of it, as in the case of sending more British troops to Bosnia and the story of two Brits "poisoned by Novichok" in Amesbury — is that Britain wants to show that it's still here, to declare its presence.
The Serbian expert also added that "the Western Balkans Summit in London is political acrobatics, a statement by Britain about its presence in the region under the guise of caring. Its true goal is to convey, first of all, to Germany and France the following idea: "We are leaving the EU, but we are staying in the Western Balkans," Lepojevic concluded.
The views and opinions expressed by the experts do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.