Ahead of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the Western Balkans, Shaheen & Wicker Renew Bipartisan Effort on Legislation to Enhance U.S. Policy toward the RegionMay 18, 2023
**Shaheen serves as the Chair of the SFRC Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation**
(Washington, DC) - U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and Chair of the SFRC Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, renewed her bipartisan push with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to promote cooperation with the Western Balkans region by reintroducing their legislation, the Western Balkans Democracy and Prosperity Act. Shaheen and Wicker’s bill would support democratic stability and economic development in the region through initiatives on infrastructure, trade and anti-corruption, including codification of sanctions to deter actors from pursuing destabilizing activity. The bill also seeks to enhance U.S.-Balkan cooperation on cyber security and cyber resilience following malign efforts by Iran and Russia to target countries in the region.
Shaheen and Wicker re-introduced their legislation ahead of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Western Balkans later this morning, which can be streamed here at 10:30AM.
Senator Wicker (R-MS) co-leads this bipartisan legislation with Shaheen, along with original co-sponsorship from Senators Cardin (D-MD), Durbin (D-IL) and Van Hollen (D-MD).
“Maintaining peace and strengthening democracy in the Balkans is critical to European security and stability, especially as Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine rages on. My bipartisan legislation will strengthen trade and investments between the U.S. and Western Balkans, root out corruption, codify sanctions against destabilizing actors and send a strong bipartisan signal that the United States is committed to our partners in the region,” said Senator Shaheen. “Last year, I visited the Western Balkans and met countless people committed to building a strong democratic state for future generations. Together, we can work to strengthen democratic institutions and build a more peaceful, stable region to combat Putin’s malign influence.”
"The Balkans are home to a diverse and vibrant cultural heritage, and their geopolitical significance continues to grow,” said Senator Wicker. “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine underscores the importance of our Balkan partnerships. Passing this bill would serve as a clear, bipartisan statement of the United States' commitment to bolster our diplomatic partnerships in the region."
“This important and bipartisan bill, calling for a strategic approach to U.S. policy toward the still-volatile region of the Western Balkans, will move us in the right direction,” said Senator Cardin. “Our legislation 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. We must continue to support our democratic partners and allies.”
“As Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine continues, we must not forget the hard-won peace in the Balkans, which suffered terrible violence after the breakup of Yugoslavia,” said Senator Durbin. “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.”
“As Putin continues to wage his brutal war against Ukraine, our global alliances remain strong in defense of human rights and self-determination. Strengthening our relations with the Western Balkans will enable us to keep building on these vital diplomatic efforts and spur greater cooperation between our nations,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This legislation will help us work with our partners to promote valuable economic opportunities, tackle corruption, and bolster cyber resilience to continue working towards increased democracy and stability in the region.”
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 and youth initiatives, encourages Peace Corps engagement in the region and requires the Development Finance Corporation to open a previously announced office in the region.
- Recognizes the key role of cyber security in protecting critical infrastructure and countering malign activities by adversaries including Russia and Iran.
Full text of the bill is available here.
Shaheen is a leader in the Senate on U.S. policy toward the Balkans. Last year, Shaheen 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 following the Russian invasion 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 and participated in a congressional delegation visit to Poland last year. Shaheen is a co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group, which she helped re-establish with Senator Tillis in 2018. She and Tillis participated in NATO Summits in Brussels and Madrid.
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