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Government should review its approach to Western Balkans says Lords committee

26 January 2024

The House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee has sent a letter to the Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon the Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, following the conclusion of its short inquiry into the Western Balkans.


Tensions in the Western Balkans have recently escalated. There have been violent clashes in northern Kosovo and protests in Serbia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik has increased his use of secessionist rhetoric, putting at risk the hard-won inter-ethnic peace achieved through the Dayton Agreement.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues to impact the European security context and this has significant consequences for the countries of the Western Balkans. We are particularly concerned about the scale and nature of Russian disinformation campaigns. We also heard that efforts to tackle corruption, embed the rule of law, ensure freedom of the press and safeguard the rights of returnees have deteriorated.  

In this dynamic situation, we believe that the UK Government should review its approach to the Western Balkans and we have made a number of recommendations to facilitate prosperity, security, and stability in the region.

Key recommendations

Key recommendations to the UK Government include: 

  • Continue to press the leaderships of Serbia and Kosovo to implement the commitments set out in the Brussels and Ohrid agreements, which both parties have verbally agreed to. It is vital that the UK, with its allies in the EU and the Quint (the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy), maintain co-ordinated and balanced diplomatic pressure to encourage both sides to normalise relations.
  • Re-evaluate the possibility of re-joining Operation Althea, the EU-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UK’s decision not to participate, at a time of increased regional and internal tensions, could be interpreted as a downgrading of UK engagement in the region and may have a detrimental impact on UK influence.
  • Provide funding for the creation of a BBC Albanian Service equivalent to the BBC Serbian provision, which would help to counter the spread of disinformation in the region.
  • Employ longer-term funding instruments for development programmes in the region. This would help ensure predictability for those delivering programmes and help them plan for the longer term.
  • Promote economic growth and combat corruption. The UK Government should deepen its economic ties with the region to promote long-term growth, and complement the EU’s efforts to stabilise the region and integrate it with Euro-Atlantic institutions. It should co-ordinate sanctions and anti-corruption programmes with its international partners to drive down kleptocracy.  

Chair’s comments

Commenting on the letter, Lord Ashton of Hyde, Chair of the International Relations and Defence Committee said:

“It is in the UK’s interest to promote peace, prosperity, and stability in the Western Balkans. We call on the UK Government to review its approach to the region in light of the disturbing escalation of violence in northern Kosovo and secessionist rhetoric from the Republika Srpska leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

“The UK should work closely with the EU and the other Quint countries (Italy, Germany, France, and the US) to encourage the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and make clear to President Dodik that his actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are unacceptable. 

“We also urge the Government to re-evaluate the possibility of re-joining Operation Althea, the EU-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This would send a strong signal of the UK’s enduring commitment to stability in the region”.

Further information

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