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News 13 Jul 16

Brexit Will Curtail UK’s Engagement in Balkans, Experts

An expert panel at London’s LSE said Britain’s exit from the EU will also lead to its de-facto exit from the Balkans.

Marcus Tanner
Expert panel at the LSE. Photo: LSE

Britain’s all-but-inevitable exit from the EU is likely to lead to a drastic curtailment of its influence and engagement with the Balkans - where it has been an active diplomatic force in favour of enlargement - a panel of experts told an audience at the London School of Economics, LSE, on Tuesday.

James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow on South East Europe at LSE, said Britain had been an active, benign force in the Western Balkans, especially in Bosnia and Kosovo, even though the level of its engagement had noticeably declined in recent years. Earlier, however, it had been “extremely important” in the context of Kosovo’s recognition as a state as well as “instrumental” in taking Serbia-Kosovo relations forward.

In a post-exit UK, the future stability and integration of the Balkans will become “a very secondary issue” for Britain, however, as “the entire machinery of government” is reoriented towards managing highly complex negotiations on withdrawal from the EU, he warned.

As Britain recedes from the Balkan scene, Germany’s role in the region will become ever more important.

It was already the “unassailable central power” in the European club, Kerr-Lindsay observed, and Berlin was now “the place to go” for Balkan leaders seeking advice and encouragement.

Denisa Kostovicova, Associate Professor in Global Politics at LSE, and educated at Belgrade University,agreed that the impact of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU was likely to be negative for the Balkan region.

It would likely slow enlargement and thereby confirm a de-facto division of the Balkans into EU members like Croatia and a “non-EU enclave” comprising the rest, in which there was “divergence as opposed to convergence” with European norms and standards.

She called this prospect worrying in terms of the region’s “shallow” integration with the EU, marked by superficial application of laws that are not implemented in practice.

While the panelists saw Brexit as a negative development for the Balkans in political and diplomatic terms, Peter Sanfey of the EBRD said the economic impact was least concerning.

Most Balkan states had reasonable growth prospects by EU standards of 2 to 4 per cent and were seeing major EU-funded infrastructure projects that should assist future growth and integration with European economies.

Regional banks were also well capitalized and resilient and, as relatively few people from the region lived in the UK, no impact was likely to be felt on the homeward flow of remittances – a highly important source of cash for some of the poorer Western Balkan states.

Sanfey said that “the indirect impact [of Brexit] on the eurozone generally is the real issue”, as the UK is one of its more successful economies and a major contributor to EU funds.

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