I cannot explain why, but confidential and reliable information on tens of billions of dollars that, allegedly, either Chinese or Russian funds would like to invest in the Balkans is being repeated over and over again, not only as the whispering rumors. The news, with mentioning of exactly such amount, surfaced during the announced visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia, and then, a few days later, just before the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Belgrade. The first part was equipped with an additional explanation, that, supposedly, billions intended for large infrastructure projects in the countries of Western Balkans would be distributed and controlled via the Slovenian financial and legal offices, while the second part of the news would be much more immediate and it would be a result of the announcement that Chinese president holds the aforementioned amount practically in the bag he carries with him. Of course, everyone immediately fully understood both news, almost physically tangible in their immediacy, and, above all, completely different from the complicated announcements full of banking and bureaucratic reality, sent to the capitals of the aforementioned countries of the Western Balkans by the European Brussels.
However, if we remove the attractiveness and glittery credibility of rumours on more or less donated billions on one side and the severity of statement about the necessity of meeting the complex requirements and procedures for the possible acquisition of the so-called European funds, difference between European and other, new policies, that seek their own, both political and financial investment opportunities in the Balkans, becomes visible.
The significance of this difference was firstly determined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Almost exactly two years ago in Dubrovnik, she met with the prime ministers of the countries of the region. She had two key messages. The first one, more or less known, and then only verified once again, that all countries of the so-called European soft belly, between Ljubljana, Zagreb, Budapest and Athens, have a European perspective. That the process of their full membership continued and that it had all the necessary German support. However, the second part of her performance was completely new. That there is a little less than 12 billion euros available for the various infrastructure projects in the region. She added that citizens cannot live only from the words about Europe and that they need specific projects. After the Dubrovnik meeting, counting of an entirely new period started. A period of great cooperation and preparation of new plans for construction of modern roads, railways, establishment of transport connections, new energy facilities.
However, due to the humanitarian crisis with the refugees on first place, the European attention and the associated plans has withdrawn from the region again. The success of the British referendum and withdrawal of the state from the European Union will only deepen such a withdrawal and the attention will be even more distant with the time. Countries in the region will pay the big price of Brexit, because the new European enlargement process, also as a direct result of the withdrawal and the new European reality, has been deleted again from the political agenda.
This is why I see a three-day visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the key country in the region, Serbia, as a new entry into, at least temporarily, slowed or discontinued Angela Merkel’s Dubrovnik initiative.
Political messages during the preparation of the visit were, above all, similar. About the necessary investments. With a significant difference which is visible in real usage of Belgrade dialogues. To be more precise, if we eliminate the arrangement of a construction of Confucius Centre, as well as taking over of concessions for certain sections of the highway network, two key Chinese investment objectives remain. Modernization of the Smederevo steel mill, construction of large river dock, i.e. port on the Danube and modernization of high-speed railway Belgrade – Budapest. So, the objective is the re-establishment of the necessary conditions for the airworthiness of the Danube river between the Black Sea and Rotterdam, also for supply of central European steelworks and distribution of products from Smederevo steel mill and quick and competitive, when it comes to prices, railway connection of the Greek port of Piraeus, owned by Chinese capital, and Budapest. Exactly these plans, which are harder to realize because of specific rules and benefits requested by Chinese investors, are also significant for the northern Adriatic ports, including the Port of Koper. The objective of the plans is to be faster and more cost-favourable, for Koper and Slovenian Railways as well, whereby the intention of construction of fast lowland railway line between Croatian Rijeka, Zagreb and Budapest give much more binding character for the Port of Koper as well. I talked about this a month ago, when he was preparing a closed dialogue of all the participants of the construction of the second track between Koper and Divača, with the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar. He was quite binding and decisive in his thinking and decision on the necessary investment and construction of the second track because of wider, geopolitical conditions as well.
Immediately after the holiday season, Serbia will be visited by the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev. Now, after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, the topics of the dialogue will be even more interesting. The key part of the dialogues is just being speculated about more or less, and it is being put into the same context of the proposal on the closest political, economic and security connections between the two countries. Russian ambassador in Zagreb, Anvar Azimov, is one of the most influential Russian diplomats in Europe. Also one of the best-informed ones. That is why his announcement, just ahead of Medvedev’s visit, on the intentions of the current Russian investments in the energy systems of the countries of the region, and the amount was again rounded to ten billion dollars, is not just an investment one. That is, it is least of all that.
Now that the political commitments of the European membership of the Western Balkan countries have become distant again, the European Union has only one possibility. Angela Merkel must literally awake her Dubrovnik agenda. Repeat the investments plans in the region. Therefore, a meeting convened by French President Hollande, to which the presidents of the countries of the region have been invited, represents the first chance.