The Balkans, seen as a strategic bridge between the European Union and Asia, faces intense competition over several new transport corridor projects. Regional states and external players are actively lobbying for the creation of different delivery routes.
What kind of projects are these? Who supports them and why? Anton Demidov, RISS Balkan expert, answers these and other questions.
- The strategic importance of the Balkans is growing due to the higher EU-Chinese trade volumes. China is extending its Maritime Silk Road into Europe via land routes. In this light, the Balkan region is considered by Chinese authorities as a good option to reduce shipping times to transport exports between the Suez Canal and Western Europe. Now Chinese exports can sail through the Suez directly to the Piraeus port in Greece that has become have become China’s preferred access point to the EU and be taken by train through Eastern European countries to Western Europe.
- As a result, Balkan countries along the key transport routes in the region seek to take an advantage of this trend and become hubs for global trade. Therefore, they improve their transport infrastructure by upgrading or creating new regional transportation networks attracting foreign investors. China is focusing on Greece and Serbia, but also other countries in the Western Balkans, who are benefitting from low-interest Chinese loans for infrastructure projects.
- While China prefers a transport corridor from the Greek port of Piraeus heading north via Serbia, Hungary, reaching central and northern Europe, the European Union considers Pan‐European Transport Corridor No 8 that links the Black Sea ports of Burgas and Varna port (Bulgaria) with the port of Durrës (Albania) to be a priority for the Balkan Peninsular.
- China will continue filling a void in the Western Balkans, which is losing hopes for EU accession and Serbia is likely to diversify its foreign relations benefitting from the developing Balkan routes running through its territory.