Geopolitical Competition and the Rule of Law in the Western Balkans
The Western Balkans region has become a battleground for global powers vying for influence. With ongoing geopolitical tensions and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, this competition is likely to continue. The impact of this competition on the region's adherence to the rule of law is concerning, with scholars observing signs of backsliding, "stabilitocracies," and weakened EU conditionality. The involvement of other geopolitical actors has led the EU to adopt a more instrumental approach, deemphasizing the rule of law as a diplomatic objective. Local elites have also leveraged this competition to sidetrack European democratization efforts. To counter these threats, the EU must develop a new set of policies that protect and promote the rule of law in the Western Balkans while competing with autocratic powers. Rather than adopting a pragmatic and norm-free strategy, the EU should reinforce its "normative power" approach and prioritize democratic institutions and values. This will allow the EU to maintain its political distinctiveness and provide a normative soft power advantage over competitors.