From the late 1990s onwards, the political and economic weight of the European Union (EU) member states in South-Eastern Europe has grown steadily. They have taken on increased responsibilities for the conduct and direction of the international missions deployed in the region, as well as the coordination of their military and civilian aspects. They have acted under the aegis of various international organizations, but mostly through the EU, whose role in the region has become increasingly active and prominent. Indeed, the EU has committed itself to a demanding and ambitious long-term strategy of stabilization and integration of South-Eastern Europe which, in terms of political and economic resources invested, has arguably no parallel in other areas. Moreover, in South-Eastern Europe the EU is testing a series of newly acquired capabilities in the field of crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction. For these reasons, the EU’s performance in this area will, as it has done in the past, provide crucial indications about the EU’s shortcomings and potential as an impending international actor. 1Similarly, the European debate on the ways and means of making the Union’s external policies more effective and consistent will continue to be influenced heavily by the ‘Balkan lessons’.
The growing involvement of the EU in South-Eastern Europe reflects the consolidation of a wide spectrum of interests common to the member states. First of all, there is a shared perception that instability and conflict still present in the region can spill over into EU territory and negatively affect the societies of the individual member states. Insecurity emanating from South-Eastern Europe includes different forms of illegal trafficking involving drugs, arms and migrants. The links between criminal organizations based in the region and those in the EU countries remain a major source of concern. Especially in the aftermath of 11 September, the EU countries - as well as the United States - are increasingly worried that