Governance versus Authoritarian Influence in the Western Balkans

June 07, 2021
Marko Pankovski
2 min read


The Western Balkans are increasingly subject to foreign authoritarian influence. Using new, sophisticated tools, authoritarian countries from outside the region have moved from a fringe and informal involvement to a sophisticated systemic presence that clashes with the transatlantic normative and institutional architecture. Their asymmetric methods and cheap involvement have steadily transformed into a multilayered presence with investment in energy and infrastructure. As these new methods would not be possible under the host country’s regulatory and institutional environment, they have increasingly relied on custom-made arrangements that are contrary to EU-driven reform processes. Institutions in the Western Balkans have lacked the capacity to counter this evolution.

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated this trend by further exposing the distance between the EU and the Western Balkans. Coupled with the prolonged EU accession process, the pandemic gave rise to a new incentive structure and signaled the altered leverage of the EU and the United States in the region.

The ad hoc and incoherent policymaking process in the Western Balkans suits authoritarian countries, which capitalize on unpredictable policy environments. The lack of coordination between governments, line ministries, and the responsible institutions reduces the resilience of countries in the region to the complex multisectoral engagement by external authoritarian ones. Lack of meaningful civil society involvement in policymaking also prevents governments from assessing the long-term strategic effects of policies and regulations.

This paper looks into the behavior of authoritarian countries in critical sectors in the Western Balkans in the context of the region’s policymaking, institutional, and regulatory environments. It examines to what extent a sound regulatory environment and good governance can prevent further authoritarian influence in the region. It zooms in on the tools and governance mechanisms necessary for the prevention of authoritarian influence. Finally, it discusses the complementary role of civil society and its vital agency in encouraging and enforcing innovative approaches to tackling authoritarian influence.

Photo credit: BalkansCat /