Two main features of the South-Eastern Neighbourhood have to be kept in mind: a) it is not surrounding Europe but is included as an internal area; b) Western Balkans only represent 4.3% of EU (plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) population and 5.4% of the territory, yet they are an important area for Europe. After the 1990 decade of wars, political and economic unrest, this Neighbourhood is converging in many ways with trends observed in Europe. (i) The demographic transition completion and acceleration of natural decline show a convergence with trends observed in many parts in Europe. However, in contrast with western Europe, demography is deeply influenced by migrations, both within the Neighbourhood (many displaced persons during war time) and with remote countries in particular European. (ii) As in Europe, the main patterns of settlements are visible in and around capital cities districts, in coastal plains, and along the main rivers leading to the Danube plain. Current migrations increase the contrast between depopulated and ageing internal areas, and concentration in cities and seashores. (iii) These Neighbour countries have undertaken deep administrative and territorial reforms after the socialist regime. As candidate or potential candidate countries, they take into account the European demands. However, the weakness of civil societies, the degree of corruption, and the political parties configuration are holding back further progress.

Map 1. Density of population, ca 2010
Map 2. Transport networks, ca 2010

There are more territorial discontinuities than continuities between this Neighbourhood and Europe, because of:
(i) New borders. Since 1989 and the dismantling of the Socialist Federative Yugoslav Republic, these countries are in process of borders creation (“re-bordering”), both internal (within the Neighbourhood and which have become “international” borders) and external. External border control with EU countries has been strengthened by EU following the 2004 and 2007 enlargements and development of the Schengen area. As a consequence, visa regime and controlled circulation led to a perception of borders as barriers more than contact points. Moreover, for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo under UN SC 1244/99 and Montenegro, access to EU requires to cross another country.
(ii) Insufficient market integration. In 2012, intra-CEFTA trade (Central and European Free Trade Agreement) corresponds to only 16% of external trade of the South-Eastern Neighbour countries, and this share does not rise.
(iii) Transport networks especially roads. They display strong discontinuities with European networks: high speed roads are not yet completed at borders or simply do not exist. Congestion at checkpoints arises. The lack of networks hierarchy concentrates flows on domestic single axes with a strong risk of congestion. Trade facilities are still fragmented according to domestic priorities; transport networks of international importance need improvement to reach European speed and security norms.
(iv) The position of the South-Eastern Neighbourhood at a crossroads is of utmost importance for gas and oil trade to Europe in order to bypass Turkish straits with a new terrestrial road, to join western Europe through the Danube plain or through the Adriatic shore, and to diversify energy roads coming from the Caspian and Russian fields. However, many projects have aborted or have been delayed due to numerous bilateral agreements instead of a clear European energy policy.

Map 3. Discontinuities of regional GDP

At European scale, the discontinuities of GDP per capita at borders between the S-E Neighbourhood and EU appear uneven. In the southern part, boundaries between Greece and both Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia register the highest levels of disparity. Hence, the level of discrepancy with EU territory along the southern borders of Albania, of the FYR of Macedonia and partly Serbia marks a new “golden curtain” vis-à-vis EU. On the eastern limit of the Neighbourhood, the discontinuity is lower but still visible between Serbia and Romania. Finally, the northern limit appears as a scattered discontinuity. It means that elsewhere, regional GDP are more or less equal on both sides of the border with EU.

At national scale, Croatia appears closer to the Hungarian or Slovenian levels than to those of Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia. At infra-national level, in Croatia and Serbia, capital city areas are in discontinuity with their surroundings. GDP discrepancies illustrate a domestic political dilemma between concentrating wealth in few leading areas to be competitive, or distributing the efforts in all the areas according to the principle of territorial equity.

Figure 1. Cooperation (regionalism) vs. real regional integration

Relationship with EU is unbalanced. The Western Balkans represent 0.5% of European trade of goods in 2011. Reversely, EU countries represent 70% to 90% of FDI inflows for this South-Eastern Neighbourhood; they give between 66% and 84% of its Official Development Assistance; they also represent 57% of international trade for the CEFTA countries –with positive trade balance for western Europe countries.

Other international actors are there, with the presence of Turkish (FDI) and Russian stakeholders (ODA and FDI).

In terms of political cooperation, the integration process of the Neighbourhood into EU is strengthened thanks to specific territorial cooperation instruments (CARDS), economic agreements (Stabilisation and Association Process), and visa facilitation agreements progressively leading to official candidatures to EU membership. European pre-accession support (IPA: Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance) is more and more tangible.

Policy orientations for territorial issues and cooperation

Addressing European territorial discontinuities

– Connecting places through transports is a condition for better integration, both within this fragmented Neighbourhood and vis-à-vis EU territory. The development of a thorough network including access roads could foster European accessibility and contain depopulation by developing hierarchical networks at local and regional levels instead of only focusing on high speed roads.
– Challenges of migrations and security border control could be more differentiated between illegal migrants and nationals of South-Eastern Neighbour countries –all the more that there is no risk of major migration to EU from these nationals, unlike what was feared during the collapse of former Yugoslavia. Turning the high level of working age population as a resource for labour markets in enhancing training, professional and student mobility, would be of mutual advantage.

Integrating Western Balkans markets as a prerequisite to a better integration with EU

– Fostering internal integration within Neighbourhood countries could be a first step towards European integration. It could enhance complementarities rather than competition between CEFTA members. This should go along with a clear cooperation between these countries.
– Turning both core-periphery pattern and strong dependency on Europe into a cooperation pattern would create a new pole in a polycentric Europe.
– Developing alternative energy routes through the South-Eastern Neighbourhood could help fighting against the congestion of current pipes and securing energy supply. However it would need a united political vision of all EU Member States regarding energy policy.

Fostering territorial international cooperation

– Developing a territorial approach from local scale to European level through cross-border cooperation could contribute to better address spatial imbalances and complete transnational partnership.