The Balkans refers to the area in southwest Europe that spreads from Bulgaria to Serbia. The area is also known by other names like south-eastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula. The name is derived from the Balkan Mountains that spread across the region. The population of the area is around sixty million and has an area of about 212,000 square miles. The countries that are physically located within the peninsula include, Albania Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. The term Balkan is used to cover some countries that lie outside the peninsula like Romania, Slovenia and Croatia. Contemporary usage of the term Balkan especially in  the English speaking countries refers to the following countries  Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia,  Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro  and Serbia, and sometimes may include  Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Slovenia.
The major natural resources that are present in the peninsula include coal, lead, zinc, chromium and silver. Petroleum deposits are available in Romania while lignite is present in Greece. The climate of the region is largely Mediterranean in the coast line while the interior has a continental climate. Agriculture is not widely practiced in the region due to the mountainous landscape (1). The region has a rich and diverse history which dates back to the Neolithic period. The history of the region is largely responsible for shaping the geopolitics of the region as well as shaping the relationships between the Balkan states and other countries over the years and even to the present. The cultures that have dominated the region over the years have been characterised by a blend of different cultures specifically the Greek and the Latin in the reign of the Roman Empire over the region. The region was also the meetings point of Catholicism and orthodox Christianity in early AD as well the region where Islam from the Middle East and Christianity in Europe met and fused in the 17th century.

In the classical period, the region was inhabited by the paenonians, Greeks, Thracians, dacians and the Illyrians. The area fell under the control of the Roman Empire during the 1st to 6th century which made the region adopt Roman traditions and customs and the Latin language. Despite these influences of the Romans in most of the regions, the predominant culture that was practiced was the Greek culture. In the middle ages, the region was characterized by a range of wars among the Serbian, Bulgarian and Byzantine empires. The Ottoman Empire which was created by the Turkish tribes reigned in the region between the 15th and the 19th century. It was the most authoritative and an influential empire on the peninsula and its era was characterised by fierce fight for freedom and conflicts with the Hapsburgs tribes which occurred across the borders of Hungary, Serbia and Croatia. The frequent wars during the reign of the Ottoman Empire made the Balkans to become the least developed part of Europe because of the obsession with war rather than economic development unlike in other areas of Europe where economic development was the preoccupation (2). The Ottoman Empire lasted until the 19th century when Turkey adopted a secular form of government.

Most of the countries within the Balkan Peninsula gained independence in the 19th century. Serbia gained independence in 1833, Greece in 1829 and Bulgaria and Montenegro in 1878.  The first major war of the Balkans occurred between 1912 and 1913 shortly after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It involved an alliance of the Christian countries of the Balkan teaming up against the receding Turks which ended the authority of the Turks in the region. The war was fought for five months and shortly after the first war, the second Balkan war broke out which involved Bulgaria attacking Greece and Serbia which were former allies in the fight against the Turks after it was discontented with its share of the peninsula. The Bulgarians were defeated by an alliance of Greece, Serbia and Romania which contributed to the collapse of Bulgaria.

The region was critical in triggering the First World War which occurred after Serbia assassinated the austral Hungarian heir in 1914 which led to war between the two nations. The war sparked a series of alliances that were responsible for triggering the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was the first to join the alliance then Bulgaria which attacked Serbia. When the Greeks joined the alliance, the German Bulgarian front collapsed which ended the First World War. During the second war, most of the Balkan states were alliances with Germany in the war. The war expanded to the Balkan Peninsula when Italy invaded Greece making Germany to intervene. The area experienced the fiercest fighting of the world war and when the war ended, the region was left largely ruined and economically unstable (3).

During the cold war era, most Balkan states were under the control of communist Soviet Union. Greece was the first country to shun communism and adopt capitalist policies. However, during this period, some of the countries like Yugoslavia and Albania differed with the Soviet Union and sought better relations with the non communist west. They later joined the developing countries at the time in the Non Aligned Movement. Albania was the nation that maintained fierce communist ideals during the period. The defining period of the Balkan Peninsula occurred in the 1990s when civil war started in the region after the break away of the Yugoslavia republics after Serbia resolved to change the equality status of the states which was constitutionally ensconced. This resolve to alter the status and Serbian failure to endorse the dissolving of the Yugoslav union contributed to a civil war between it and the rest of the Balkan republics. The civil war resulted in international intervention by the UN and NATO against Serbia in the nations of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Kosovo (5).  The war resulted in attainment of full independence in the nations of Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo.  The main land routes that control Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East are located in the peninsula and this has made the area a region of interest not just to the EU but to other nations and Asia as well.

Since 2000, all the Balkan states have had good ties with the European Union and all of them have expressed their wish to join the European Union which has made the Balkans a region of interest to the Europeans. Greece joined the union in 1981 while Slovenia and Cyprus joined in 2004. The other countries to join the EU were Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 (4). This interest of the European Union in the Balkan states was particularly revealed in 2005 when the European Union resolved to commence accession and joining negotiations with the countries that qualified for candidate membership like Croatia, Turkey and Macedonia. In April 2009, other countries like  Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania all started talks on joining the union but Montenegro and Serbia were denied the offer of accession   after they declined  to engage with the ICC for war crimes that were committed during the civil war.

One of the major interests of the Europeans in the Balkan is financial aid and assistance for all the candidate nations for EU membership. These nations include Croatia, the former Yugoslav republics, and Turkey. The assistance is also extended to potential members like Herzegovina, Albania and Bosnia, Serbs, Kosovo and Montenegro. The financial assistance is aimed at aiding these nations to establish reforms in their economic, political and social institutions in order for them to meet the standards that are set for such institutions before the countries are granted membership (3). These reforms are aimed at improving the standards of living for these candidate countries in the recipient countries.

 The major focus of the financial assistance targets reforms in the political institutions especially the reinforcing of law, basic human rights and in safeguarding the rights of marginalized groups in the society in turn leading to the advancement of civil institutions of the society. The other aim of the financial aid is aimed at making the candidate countries to improve their market structures (6). Since it is a requirement for all  member states to have  a market economy that functions properly even with the tough competition and market dynamics of the European market, the aid therefore supports these countries  in  implementing market reforms that lead to economic development and improvements in the employment numbers.

The EU also provides assistance to these Balkan candidate countries to adopt these requirements that must be met before joining the union collectively known as acquis communautaire. The rate at which these candidate countries implement reforms and the rates of the accession process are closely tied because the faster the rate the higher the accession. The assistance helps the candidate countries to improve their joining prospects by lining the policies of the candidate countries to conform to the EU regulations, like the adoption of common policies governing the approach towards drug, crimes and illegal immigrants.  This aid helps improve the internal relations and the regional cooperation between the European Union and the Balkan states, a major interest for the Europeans. The aid also helps in promoting developing and reducing the levels of poverty in these states (7). The financial assistance also aims at changing the European economy and society as a whole by boasting trade within the whole of Europe continent.

The other major interest of the Europeans in the Balkans is promoting reconciliation between the different ethnic groups within the region through improving the contacts between the groups and the development of civil institutions. The EU aims at achieving this through reinforcing the respect of law, better governance and improving the justice and administrative practices within the region, The European Union has continually marshalled many policies to support this initiative in order to achieve progress for the region. There is a strong dedication from the members of the EU to continually support the Balkan people to adopt European ideals and standards of living. To achieve this, EU has adopted a policy of travel without visas across the union in order to ensure there is greater integration of the Balkans people into the European lifestyle.

In the areas of education, the Europeans through the European Union are committed towards improving cooperation and assistance in order to improve the development of civil society in the Balkan states. The European Union has continually increased substantially the scholarships allocated to students from the Balkan states to access education in the European Union member states.  The union has opened many agencies and programs in the Balkan states that are aimed at improving the cooperation between the educational and research institutions of the European institution member states and the Balkan states (8). These programmes will enhance the cooperation between the European Union and the Balkan states in the fields of science, research culture youth, environment and other social services

In the field of disaster prevention and environmental protection, the Europeans through the European Union has continued to provide assistance and cooperation in the event of disasters occurring in the as was witnessed in the well coordinated response to forest fires that occurred in Greece during the summer of 2007. The EU organised a structured response that spanned several borders which minimised the scale of the disaster. The aim of the Europeans through the European Union is to establish a program that handles disaster preparedness and response between the members states and the Balkan Peninsula that will be able to improve regional coordination in disaster management across the whole European continent.

In the field of transportation, the major interest of the Europeans is to be able to access the land routes that link Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East, since the major routes through land are located in the Balkans peninsula. The European Union has signed a treaty with the Balkan countries termed the West Balkan Transport Treaty (WBTT). The treaty is critical in ensuring the flow of goods between the Western Europe and Asia and is critical in boasting the volume of trade between Asia and the European Union. The Europeans other interest in the Balkan regions to extend the airspace of the European Union through the joining of Balkan states. A major stride has already been made through the signing of a treaty with some of the Balkan states called the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA). This treaty grants the European nations access to the airspace of the Balkan states (9).

Europeans interest in boasting trade in the European union is demonstrated in the rate at which it has granted candidate status to some of these states in the Balkan peninsula even with countries that differ with it in ideologies like Turkey and the signing of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) that is aimed at contributing to the wider development of the whole European territory. The other area of interest for the Europeans is the collaboration in the field of energy production and utilization between the Balkan states and the European Union. This regional cooperation in energy issues is achieved through the Energy Community Treaty (ECT) which outlines frameworks that outline the areas and the guidelines on collaboration between the Balkan states and the European Union.

Another issue that is of concern to the Europeans is the massive immigration of the Balkan people into the European Union due to the accession of the Balkan countries to the European Union. There are conflicting views of the effects of this migration once more countries get full membership to the European Union. The effect of immigration are already being felt in the European Union countries due to a relaxation of the visa requirements between the EU and some of the Balkan states like a drop in the wages due to availability of cheap labour from these countries. Some of the member countries argue that the massive immigration is essential in improving the status of the Balkan economy through the remittance of funds to their respective economies from these immigrant populations (4). This issue of immigration is a thorny issue for the European Union and the Balkan states as well. This issue will continue to have many consequences and raise varied opinions as more of these Balkan states get integrated into the European Union.

The effects of immigration in the European Union have made some governments to adopt some protectionist policies that limit the influx of unskilled workers into their countries. For example, the United Kingdom has adopted some measures that propose the imposing of heavy fines to employers who employ unskilled workers. The measures were adopted after the effects of immigration from the Balkan states worsened an already bad immigration crisis from other regions of the world .The major effects of the massive  immigration to the European economy has been its the effects on the labour markets especially the employment numbers and the wages. Another effect of the massive immigration from the Balkan states to the European Union has been the pressure and strain on public social services because of the build up of sudden demand, (10). The effects of the Balkan immigration will continue to haunt the member countries of the European Union as it expands through the accession and joining of more Balkan states

With the exit of United States from running the affairs of the Balkan states by the Bush administration, the European Union have assumed the responsibility of maintaining peace in this troubled Balkan peninsula. The policy of the EU towards attaining regional stability and overcoming the ethnic hatred and tensions that have characterized the region is driving the Balkan region towards embracing Europes society values of tolerance and pluralism through offering membership to these states. The European Union has also drafted a pact that outlines the framework of establishing dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation of these states (8). Another policy employed by the Europeans through the European Union is the enactment of a guideline called the Stabilization and Association Process (SAP), which provides guidelines on the process of membership and accessation.

The other major interest of the Europeans in the Balkan region is the opportunity it offers of foreign direct investment (FDI). The collapse of communism and accessation of some of these countries in joining the European union have made the Balkan states  a  favourable business destination for   attracting  investors from the European union and other regions of the world as well. Countries such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Romania all have been characterized by poor leadership that cripples the reforms that attract the foreign direct investment and therefore have not benefited substantially from the opportunity though of late there has been considerable progress in implementing the reforms that favour the flow of FDI into their economies (11).

The major countries of the European Union that have invested into the region include Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Greece and the United Kingdom. The Balkan states have attracted the investment due to opening of their borders which offer opportunities challenges and incentives for foreign direct investment. The major factors hampering more investment by the Europeans in the region include poor leadership, great distance from the west and cultural differences between the region with other parts of Europe, the regions inclination towards Soviet Communist policies and the political instability that have characterised the region. With the acessation of many of these states to membership of the European Union, the region stands to benefit from more inward investment of foreign direct investment from the Europeans from the European Union members

The other critical role the Balkan Peninsula plays is that it influences the relationship between the European Union and Russia. Russia plays a key role of providing about 25 of the energy needs of the Europeans. The pipelines and other infrastructure that transfer oil and gas from Russia to the European union cut across most of the states of Balkan and the major infrastructure for transporting the resources into the European union member states are under construction in most of the Balkan states with most installations being constructed in Romania and Slovakia in order to meet the growing demand for the resource in Europe.  Therefore, the relations that exist between Russia and the European Union are largely influenced by the relations between the Balkans and the Europeans and the relations between Russia and the Balkan nations (12). The energy aspect will continue to shape the relations between the European Union and Russia for a long time with the signing of treaty that allows construction of major routes of transporting petroleum and gas through the Balkan

Another major interest the Europeans have in the Balkan is shaping the geopolitical equation of the Balkan Peninsula. For example, the negotiation of the end of conflict in Serbia and Macedonia in early 2001 was made due to extreme Europe involvement. The major issues that will shape the reorganization of the geopolitical boundaries of the region include the individual preferences of the member states that will prevent the European Union from adopting a common policy for the Balkan states. An example of this is the conflict of the usage of the name Macedonia. The common term for the EU is Macedonia but Greece refuses to recognize the name and instead prefers to use the term former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to refer to the nation of Macedonia.

Another example of the differences within the EU  are the differences that exist between Turkey and Greece which have delayed the achievement of cooperation in all the states in the field of military cooperation. Another example of how the differences in the views of the member states will continue to shape the geopolitics of the region is proposition by the French president to delay the total independence of Kosovo in 2007 in order for France to position itself to change the Balkan politics according to its preferences. These differing policies will have a profound influence on the geopolitics and political stability of the region especially at this time when many of these Balkan states are gearing up for European Union membership (13).

The major agenda of the Europeans in the Balkans is to expand their union in order to make it to conform to its founding principles. These principles were the unity of all the continent of Europe after the world war in maintaining peace through integration. Its other founding principle was to ensure the safeguarding of a common way of life that is founded on the principles of good governance and freedom. This is what has inspired the European Union to admit some of these Balkan states to members and also giving candidate status for some of the members in order to achieve these objectives (14). This enlargement is aimed at increasing the influence of the Europeans in the world stage.

The other area of interest to the Europeans is the area of humanitarian relief. European Union is the largest contributor of finance, soldiers, policemen and experts in many of the humanitarian operations in the Balkan Peninsula. The European Union has been critical in implementing programs aimed at repatriating the refugees of the conflicts that have occurred in the region and remains an area of interest to the Europeans as it indicates the level of advancement in democracy for the Europeans.  The other role that interests the Europeans in the Balkan regions is the security role. The European Union regards the maintaining of political stability within South East Europe to be among the majors of its precedence. From the time the European union took the security interventions in the Balkan peninsula in the period between 1999 and 2003, the policy of integrating its security systems and planning concepts have made it to broaden its scope of international military operations ever since (15). The Balkan Peninsula was the foundation of its new policies on security and it still acts as a major inspiration and a reference ground for testing the future challenges for it in military operations as it aims at becoming a major actor in international resolution of conflicts. The improvements of the European Union involvement with the Balkan states have made it to launch a uniform security policy for all the member states.

In summary, the interests and the policies of the Europeans will continue to influence the security, instability and economic growth of the Balkan states. The key issue that will contribute towards peace and stability for the region will be the rate at which the European Union approves accesation and membership for each of the member states. Approval of each of the member states will have consequences and wider implications within the European Union and across the Balkan states as well in terms of peace and stability. Despite the interests and policies of the EU towards these Balkan sates to improve their a cessation, and the rate of admission to membership, the major determinate of the rate of integration will the will of the Balkan states themselves and not the wish of the European union  member states. In conclusion, it is evident that almost every aspect of the Balkan states future will be much under the influence of the interplay of factors outside their control especially the interests of the Europeans on the region.


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