Austria’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Schallenberg, led an initiative alongside the “Friends of the Western Balkans” group to decrease China and Russia’s influence in Southeast Europe. Their goal is to integrate Balkan nations more closely with the European Union (EU). The initiative aims to empower EU candidate countries, enhance solidarity, and unify European foreign policy, addressing gaps reported in certain countries by Austrian media.

The initiative, revealed at the EU heads of diplomacy meeting in Brussels, emphasizes aligning the EU’s common foreign and security policy. The “Friends of the Western Balkans” group, consisting of EU members like Austria, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, advocates for accelerating Balkan countries’ accession to the EU and fostering closer ties even before full membership.

Outlined in a “non-paper,” the proposal urges Western Balkan countries to participate regularly in EU diplomacy meetings and informal gatherings, synchronize visits, and establish a unified language for dealings with third countries. It suggests engaging in human rights discussions alongside ongoing EU candidate negotiations concerning judiciary and rule of law, enhancing cyber security collaboration, and proposes training young diplomats from the Western Balkans in the initiative’s member states.