The Western Balkans are an important region for Poland, as it is a scene of processes important for Polish national interests – EU and NATO enlargement, development of the common security and defence policy, etc. The failure of integration processes with Euro-Atlantic structures and the destabilisation of the region would be a serious blow to the credibility of the EU and NATO on the international arena, which would be detrimental to Poland. The bigger the problems in the Western Balkans, the less energy and attention the EU and NATO will focus on the Eastern Partnership, a key area for Poland.
The Western Balkans are characterised by a significant political involvement on the part of countries important to Poland – the USA, Germany, Russia, China, Turkey and the Visegrad Group countries. This means that the “Great Game” between the main international actors in this region possesses a substantial importance for Polish foreign policy.
Particularly important for Poland is the involvement of Russia, which treats the region as one of the most important fields of political rivalry with the West. Therefore, Poland is a consistent supporter of NATO and EU enlargement to the Western Balkans and is significantly involved in EU and NATO missions. However, this involvement does not translate into a significant role of Poland in the security policy of the EU and NATO in the Balkan region and the role of Poles in managerial positions in the structures of these organisations in the region.
Poland’s ties with the Western Balkans in terms of development aid, labour migration and academic cooperation (students from the region studying at Polish universities) are limited. Polish direct investments in the Western Balkans are also small. Poland’s trade with the region is quite developed, but still below the potential. An important resource is the growing number of Polish tourists in the region, which increases the knowledge of the region by Poles and gives great potential for social acceptance of greater involvement of Poland in the Western Balkans.
Poland has the potential (size and dynamics of the economy, relatively close geographical location, the status of one of the most important EU and NATO members, cultural heritage, historical ties) to become an important entity in the Western Balkans. A good basis for this process is the unprecedented increase in the activity of Polish diplomacy in the Western Balkans in recent years. Poland’s accession to the Berlin Process and the development of the Three Seas Initiative, which is conducive to Poland’s integration with the Balkan region, provide a great opportunity
to intensify involvement in the region.
However, a definite and lasting increase in Poland’s involvement in the region requires major changes in Poland’s investment and trade policy, development aid, cultural diplomacy (combined with the identity policy), scholarship opportunities and migration policy. These changes must be preceded by the allocation of more financial resources. What is equally important, due to the currently limited influence of Poland in the region, achieving this goal requires close cooperation with the most important Euro-Atlantic players (Germany/EU, USA).