The European Union Periphery and Revisionist Powers

The power dynamics on Europe’s periphery are shifting. In the 2010s, the Balkans became exposed to the influence of non-Western actors. NATO has expanded into former Yugoslavia and the EU dominates in the economic sphere, having also welcomed Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia as members. Yet Western institutions’ normative aspirations – anchoring democracy and the rule of law as well as strengthening governance capacity – have largely remained unfulfilled. Democratic backsliding is pervasive and countries like Viktor Orbán’s Hungary have emerged as role models. The surge of populism in core Western democracies exacerbates the trend, in that it undermines claims of moral higher ground.

In consequence, rival powers such as Russia, Turkey (formally a member of NATO, but pursuing an autonomous course), and increasingly China have made inroads across post-communist Europe. That has happened by the invitation of local players (governments, political leaders, business elites), not against their will. They engage external actors to maximize their domestic power or generate rents. Thus [e.g.] China’s 17+1 initiative which promises billions of investment in infrastructure grabs headlines from Athens to Warsaw. Erdoğan’s Turkey wins plaudits as an ally in stemming illegal migration or, in some countries, as an external supporter. The same is true of Russia which uses transnational elite-level links to compete against the West.

During his Europe’s Futures fellowship in 2020/21 Dimitar Bechev will research the critical role played by peripheral countries and their elites who rather than being the object of great powers' decisions manipulate rivalries in pursuit of political advantage.

Dimitar Bechev

Dr. Dimitar Bechev is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. He is also the director of the European Policy Institute, a think-tank based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Dr. Bechev has published extensively, in both academic and policy format, on EU foreign relations, the politics of Turkey and the Balkans, Russian foreign policy, and energy security. His book Rival Power, published by Yale University Press in 2017, explores Russia’s role in Southeast Europe (Balkans, Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey). He is currently completing another monograph looking at Turkey under Erdogan's rule as well as an edited volume on Russia in the Middle East and North Africa.

He has held research and teaching positions at the University of North Carolina, Oxford and Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo as well as visiting fellowships at Harvard and the London School of Economics. From 2010 to 2014, he was the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) office in Sofia. Dr. Bechev is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera Online, Oxford Analytica, POLITICO, and EUObserver. His quotes have appeared in leading newspapers such as the Financial Times, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He holds a DPhil in international relations from the University of Oxford.