Energy Transition Partnerships
Much is at stake for the European Union in the Western Balkans
Long-term stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans is closely interlinked with the fate of the EU. A positive development in the region and the maintenance of good relations are in the EU’s strategic interest. Geopolitical interests continue to compete in the Western Balkans: China is increasingly rivalling ideas of international solidarity and co-operation offered by the EU. This has become most apparent during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that followed. The new momentum of recently extended financial support should be the starting point for a more serious cooperation with the Western Balkans on the energy transition. The German EU Presidency in the second half of this year should focus on making energy transition partnerships a reality. This is an opportunity that the EU should not miss.
Substantial sums of financial assistance from the EU have been flowing in the past and new larger sums are part of the EU’s global response and long-term recovery plan are targeting the Western Balkans. It is important that these funds are used for sustainable development, preferably to bolster the transition of energy sectors in the region.
Energy systems play a key role for economic prosperity and could be a driver for more co-operation and security in the region. The transition towards sustainable renewable energy is a major worldwide trend. It is becoming a crucial part of most countries’ considerations for economic development and energy security, next to the pressing topic of decarbonisation.
The EU has publicly stated that its external action should be fully aligned with the EU’s climate goals. Which is why a Green Agenda for the Western Balkans is being developed as part of the European Green Deal. In some WB6 countries, plans to invest in coal-fired power generation are still underway: A total of 12 coal power plants are currently in various stages of development. With the WB6’ accession prospects becoming a political priority again and the EU’s progressive climate ambition coming into form, coal power plants are at risk becoming stranded assets. This is even more likely in view of the envisioned carbon boarder adjustment mechanism to prevent carbon leakage from the EU and the EU’s commitment to offer the WB6 a European perspective.
Studies have shown that the potentials for renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures in the WB6 are considerable. At the same time, multiple societal and economic benefits can be gained from a successful energy transition.
In this paper, we make policy recommendations for the European Union during the German presidency of the European Council and beyond, to advance the energy transition in the WB6 – an opportunity the EU should not miss.