U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chair of the SFRC Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, introduced new bipartisan legislation with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) called the Western Balkans Democracy and Prosperity Act. This legislation would support economic development in the region through initiatives on infrastructure, trade and anti-corruption, including codification of sanctions to deter destabilizing activity In the Western Balkans.
Senators Durbin (D-IL), Tillis (R-NC), Van Hollen (D-MD), Cardin (D-MD) and Murphy (D-CT) are original cosponsors of the bipartisan legislation.
“Amid Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine and Putin’s clear ambitions to spread malign influence across Eastern Europe, the United States’ relationship with the Western Balkans is pivotal. That’s why I’m proud to introduce new bipartisan legislation that strengthens trade and investments between the U.S. and Western Balkans, while rooting out local corruption and codifying sanctions against destabilizing actors – all of which pave the way for greater Euro-Atlantic integration,” said Shaheen. “When I traveled to the Western Balkans in the Spring, I met with young leaders who shared their dreams of building a prosperous future in countries with strong democratic institutions and economic opportunity. Their stories – their visions of building a brighter future for the next generation – inspired my legislation. This region deserves every tool possible to build sustainable democracies, and I’m proud to lead this bipartisan bill that would foster relations between the U.S. and our Balkan partners and encourage greater regional integration.”
“The Balkans are countries with a rich and varied heritage, and they also occupy an increasingly important position in European affairs,” said Wicker. “This bill would send a strong bipartisan signal that the United States is committed to supporting diplomacy in the region.”
“As Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine rages on, we must not forget the hard won peace in the Balkans, which suffered terrible violence after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The United States and our allies contributed greatly to ending that horrific conflict, and this legislation reaffirms our commitment to seeing a stable future for the region—one squarely rooted in the West,” said Durbin.
“The Balkans region is critical to Europe’s security, and we must deepen existing engagement with our partners as Russia continues its illegal war against Ukraine and threatens our NATO allies,” said Tillis. “In the spring, I was proud to visit Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Belgium with Senator Shaheen to hear from leaders of these countries and relay to our colleagues the importance of expanding economic opportunity and combating corruption. This bipartisan legislation will demonstrate our support for their efforts to advance democracy, and I will work with my colleagues to build support and pass it out of Congress.”
“Despite Putin’s intent, his bloody war in Ukraine has not weakened our global alliances, but bolstered them. Increasing our partnerships with the Western Balkans will allow us to build on this and spur new economic cooperation between our nations. This legislation will help us capitalize on these opportunities as we continue to support strengthening democracy in the region,” said Van Hollen.
“While the Western Balkan nations have made great strides towards democratic governance since the end of the Yugoslav Wars, increasing political divisions and corruption threaten to erode this progress,” said Cardin, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. “We must continue to support our democratic partners and allies in the Balkans. This bipartisan bill will advance regional stability and anti-corruption efforts by establishing programs that encourage inclusive economic development, national anti-corruption strategy, and hold accountable those who threaten peace in the Western Balkans.”
“Maintaining peace in the Balkans is critical to European security, especially as Putin grows more desperate in Ukraine and may turn to other countries for a victory. During my trip to the region this spring, it was clear the United States must deepen our engagement. This legislation will strengthen U.S.-Balkan ties, expand economic opportunity, and support efforts to advance democracy and root out corruption,” said Murphy.
Specifically, the Western Balkans Democracy and Prosperity Act:
Establishes a regional trade and economic competitiveness initiative, which would support democratic resilience, economic development and prosperity in the region.
Establishes an anti-corruption initiative that directs the Secretary of State to provide technical assistance for each country in the Western Balkans to develop a national anti-corruption strategy.
Codifies two U.S. executive orders that would grant authority for sanctions against those who threaten peace and stability in the Western Balkans and are engaged in corrupt behavior.
Boosts university partnerships, encourages Peace Corps engagement in the region, creates a Balkans Youth Leadership Initiative and requires the Development Finance Corporation to open a previously announced office in the region.
Full text of the bill is available here.
Shaheen recently led a bipartisan congressional delegation with Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) to the Balkans to convey continued U.S. support for its allies amid Russian aggression against Ukraine and the implications for European security in the region. During their visit, the Senators met with members of the respective countries’ governments, members of civil society and members of the press to address numerous issues, including support for the region amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, anti-corruption efforts, democratic reforms, youth engagement, safeguarding freedom of the press and more. Shaheen has led action in the U.S. Senate in support of Ukraine in response to Vladimir Putin’s belligerence, which also threatens the stability and security of Europe and NATO allies. She has led two bipartisan delegations to Ukraine in the last year, and in February participated in a congressional delegation to Poland. Shaheen is a co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group, which she helped re-establish with Senator Tillis in 2018.