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Supporting the energy transition in the Western Balkans

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Partnerships for the energy transition
The stakes are high for the European Union in the Western Balkans

Long-term stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans are closely linked to the fate of the EU. Positive developments in the region and maintaining good relations are in the EU’s strategic interest. Geopolitical interests continue to clash in the Western Balkans: China increasingly competes with the ideas of international solidarity and cooperation proposed by the EU. This became particularly evident during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis. The new impetus from the recently granted financial support should be the starting point for more serious cooperation with the Western Balkans on energy transition. The German EU presidency in the second half of this year should focus on making partnerships for the energy transition a reality. This is an opportunity that the EU should not miss.

Substantial amounts of EU financial assistance have been disbursed in the past and new, larger amounts are part of the EU’s overall response and long-term recovery plan targeting the Western Balkans. It is important that these funds are used for sustainable development, preferably to support the transition of energy sectors in the region.

Energy systems play a key role for economic prosperity and could be a driver of increased cooperation and security in the region. The transition to sustainable renewable energy is a major global trend. This is becoming a crucial part of most countries’ economic development and energy security considerations, alongside the pressing topic of decarbonization.

The EU has publicly stated that its external action should be fully aligned with its climate objectives. This is why a green agenda for the Western Balkans is being developed as part of the European Green Deal. In some WB6 countries, investment projects in coal-fired power generation are still underway: A total of 12 coal-fired power plants are currently at various stages of development. As the prospects of WB6 membership become a political priority again and the EU’s progressive climate ambition comes to fruition, coal-fired power plants risk becoming stranded assets. This is even more likely in view of the carbon border adjustment mechanism envisaged to prevent carbon leakage from the EU and the EU’s commitment to providing WB6 with a European perspective.

Studies have shown that the potentials of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures in WB6 are considerable. At the same time, multiple societal and economic benefits can be derived from a successful energy transition.

In this article, we provide policy recommendations for the European Union during the German Presidency of the European Council and beyond, in order to advance the energy transition within WB6 – an opportunity that the EU does not should not be missed.

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