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news 08 Mar 17

Top MEP Tells EU to Counter Russia in Balkans

German MEP and head of European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee David McAllister says there are too many ‘players’ in the Balkans, noting Russia as the biggest concern.

David McAllister. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Olaf Kosinsky.

Ahead of an important summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday - probably the last to take place before Britain invokes the Article 50 mechanism for leaving the EU - David McAllister, German MEP and leader of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the EU to do more to counter Russian influence in the Balkans.

According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, while the summit is likely to be dominated by issues of migration, the economy and Brexit - the EU’s future shape once Britain departs - McAllister urged European leaders not to forget the Balkan region as it again becomes a zone for competing power struggles.

“We are seeing growing Russian influence, we are seeing growing Turkish influence, the United States is a player, the European Union is a player, so there are different interests at stake,” he said.

He also said Russia’s support for hardline nationalists in the region was especially worrying, citing suspicions that the Kremlin was involved in an alleged coup attempt last October in Montenegro.

He also noted claims that Russia was actively organising anti-Western, anti-EU propaganda in Serbian-language media outlets that fostered “conspiracy theories and Serbian ultra-nationalism”. McAllister is the parliament’s Rapporteur for Serbia.

According to Guardian, EU leaders on Thursday will renew pledges that membership remains possible for the Balkan countries while stressing the need for of reforms and good-neighbourly relations.

Citing a recent poll that said Serbians believed Russia was the country’s biggest aid donor, rather than the EU, McAllister said the EU needed to increase its efforts “to make the European Union and its good work more visible in all the six western Balkan countries”.

Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria are already EU member states while Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Albania hope to join in the next few years.

Kosovo’s ambitions are held back by a continued dispute with Serbia over its status as an independent country.

The Guardian said EU member states are divided over whether Thursday’s Brussels summit should focus only on Russia or note Turkey’s growing role as well when discussing the Balkans.

Balkan citizens heading to Iraq and Syria to fight for Islamist extremists is another likely issue on the table. A number of Kosovans, Albanians and Bosnians have been fighting in Middle Eastern war zones, the newspaper said, citing BIRN.

After the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, visited the region last week, she said she remained optimistic that all remaining non-EU countries in the region could eventually join. However, she warned: “The Balkans can easily become one of the chessboards where the big power game can be played.”

Her trip followed a series of worrying developments in the region, including a flare-up in tensions between Serbia and Kosovo and fears that Bosnian Serbs may try to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

There is also the dispute over whether the Kremlin had any hand in the alleged attempt to overthrow Montenegro’s pro-Western government last October, a dangerous stalemate between opposing political forces in Macedonia and a demarcation dispute between Kosovo and Montenegro.

McAllister, son of a German mother and a British father - but born in Germany - is widely seen as a potential heir to Chancellor Angela Merkel if she steps down as head of the centre-right Christian Democrats.

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