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Antithetic Perceptions of Regional Cooperation in the Western Balkans


Regional cooperation in the Western Balkans has been one of the most debated and most controversial issues over the past decades. This chapter reconsiders regional cooperation among the Western Balkan countries in a longer-term perspective, recalling its main objectives and the reasons why it has so often been contested. Although viewed with scepticism, some initiatives stimulating regional cooperation have led to the achievement of their initial objectives, such as those in the area of economic cooperation. Bilateral trade liberalisation agreements concluded in the early 2000s and the CEFTA 2006 have facilitated an increase in intra-region trade, in this way sustaining the economic recovery of the Western Balkans. Nevertheless, over the past decade, there has been a notable divergence in trade performance of the Western Balkan countries, as some countries have been much more successful than others in their export-led strategies of economic development and have been increasingly trading primarily with the EU. In view of such changed circumstances, the raison d'être of regional economic cooperation and intra-regional integration seems to have changed with respect to twenty years ago, rendering desirable a different EU approach towards the Western Balkan region.