Daniel Korski

Balkan business

Balkan business
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Catherine Ashton is visiting the Western Balkans this week on her first foreign trip as the EU's top diplomat. Though she has come in for criticism for not going somewhere more foreign, like the Middle East, her visit to the region is, in fact, timely and should be welcomed.

The region has a few hurdles to clear on its journey away from the misery of the past and towards a more stable future. What can Ashton do to help that process along?  Well, her job is best described with historian Richard Neustadt's moniker "Persuader-in-Chief". She can cajole member-states, put issues on the EU's agenda and suggest ideas. That is probably it.

But that is necessary in the Western Balkans, where Serbia looks set to outmanouvre the EU over Kosovo's independence; Macedonia looks increasingly fragile; Albania is being torn apart by a political battle between the government and opposition; and elections in Bosnia are inspiring strong ethno-territorial rhetoric again.

I don't mean to sound  pessimistic or alarmist. The worst of the region's turmoil is in the past. But some problems remain – made even worse because, generally speaking, Europe is bored with the region.

Over at ECFR, I offer a few suggestions for a new Balkan policy. William Hague should certainly think closely around the issues. It's undeniable that the shadow foreign secretary cares about the region, but, should he join the ranks of Europe's foreign ministers, he'll come up against an unwillingness to rethink policy. Arriving in office with some new ideas, and willing to join forces with Lady Ashton, will be crucial for helping the Balkans and, perhaps, securing a post-election, Tory success.