The covid-19 pandemic brought on a big financial shock within the Western Balkans. According to the World Bank, the GDP of nations within the area contracted by 3.2 per cent in 2020, earlier than rebounding to 7.4 per cent progress in 2021. However, the worldwide surge in power costs is threatening the area with a brand new vary of financial challenges. This signifies that policymakers engaged on the European Commission’s Green Agenda for the Western Balkans might want to reconcile rising costs and power safety with the purpose of environmental safety. This would require robust and coordinated motion from governments within the area, together with a substantial amount of assist from the European Union.
Russia’s struggle on Ukraine has weakened the Western Balkans’ already fragile power safety. The area has lengthy skilled periodic blackouts in winter. With the exception of Albania, which depends primarily on hydropower, Western Balkans states supply a lot of their power from fossil fuels – particularly coal. Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia are largely dependent on Russia for pure gasoline, however this solely accounts for a small proportion of their power combine. So, despite the fact that all Western Balkans nations besides Bosnia and Serbia have joined EU sanctions on Russia, their restricted use of pure gasoline prevents the Kremlin from retaliating in opposition to them by chopping off their power provides – particularly provided that solely Serbia has not too long ago renewed its gasoline contract with Russia (at a comparatively low price). This additionally helps shield them from the direct impression of surging pure gasoline costs. Nonetheless, excessive costs for imported electrical energy imply that the Western Balkans won’t emerge from the disaster unscathed. Several states within the area are susceptible to those rising prices – notably as winter approaches and demand for power rises.
For Western Balkans states to change into power safe, they might want to pivot to the EU and cling to the union’s laws and insurance policies. This is very essential with regard to the inexperienced agenda, a central a part of which is the transition to renewable power.
Western Balkans nations must also diversify their power manufacturing and provide chains. To obtain this, they need to work with the EU to formulate progressive and country-specific approaches to the inexperienced transition – backed by each political will and institutional assist. In reality, by signing the Sofia Declaration, they’ve already committed to doing so.
Most states within the Western Balkans rely primarily on coal-fired energy vegetation to fulfill their power wants. The use of those vegetation jeopardises their skill to fulfil the commitments outlined within the European Green Deal – one in all which is a 55 per cent discount in carbon emissions (in comparison with 1990 ranges) by 2030. Nonetheless, given the speedy stress of the power disaster, these nations might want to proceed burning coal within the brief time period. Indeed, North Macedonia and Kosovo have already announced that they may delay plans to section out their coal-fired energy vegetation over the following few years.
To survive the power disaster, Western Balkans states may also want to enhance their cooperation with each other inside the framework of the Berlin course of. They might accomplish that by making ready joint funding proposals in renewable power and the mixing of the electrical energy and gasoline markets.
The European Commission’s REPowerEU document outlines a €300 billion plan to chop the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels by two-thirds by the tip of 2022, and to import no Russian power in any respect by the tip of 2030. This technique marks a historic shift within the union’s strategy to power points. It could have a big impression on the Balkans power sector. The plan focuses on accelerating the inexperienced transition and diversifying provide by funding in liquefied pure gasoline terminals and different gasoline infrastructure.
Therefore, the Balkans might change into an essential transportation hall for Europe’s power provides – notably pure gasoline – within the medium time period. This is very true of varied gasoline pipelines that might join EU member states to nations on the Caspian Sea, resembling Azerbaijan, and to the Greece-Bulgaria interconnector that’s scheduled to change into operational this summer season. There can also be a deliberate liquefied pure gasoline terminal in Alexandroupolis, which can connect with the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and may change into operational in 2023.
In the long run, the REPowerEU plan ought to each promote power effectivity and speed up the union’s transition to renewable sources of power. Western Balkans states ought to be a part of the EU on this journey by investing in renewables (particularly hydropower) and cross-border interconnectors, and – as mentioned – aligning with EU power laws.
EU international coverage chief Josep Borrell and the vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, have rightly argued that “as we speed up the transition from a hydrocarbon-based economic system to a sustainable one primarily based on renewable power, we can’t be blind to … geopolitical results”. Western Balkans states solely have small power markets. But, because of their shut proximity to the EU, they are often essential to the union’s power coverage. This is why the EU ought to intention to finish Russia’s gasoline monopoly within the Western Balkans – however the comparatively minor function pure gasoline performs within the area’s power combine.
Furthermore, the EU ought to construct transportation networks for gasoline and crude oil within the Balkans. Such networks will likely be key to the geopolitical contest between the West and Russia. It is excessive time for the EU to place ahead a daring and complete power safety idea for all of south-eastern Europe.
The European Council on Foreign Relations doesn’t take collective positions. ECFR publications solely symbolize the views of their particular person authors.