As the European Union gains momentum on the path to the European Green Deal, we must not forget the important role of the Western Balkans in achieving our common goals, write Viola von Cramon-Taubadel and Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield.
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel and Gwendoline Delbos Corfield are members of the European Parliament, Greens/EFA.
The EU’s commitment to climate neutrality is a monumental task that requires unity, vision and cooperation – but to work more effectively towards this vision, we must also cooperate with our neighbors to the south-east.
To fully achieve our common climate goals, we should consider the Western Balkans as our allies on this journey.
Indeed, the EU has a moral duty to lead the way in the fight against climate change. Recognizing our historical responsibility for climate change will help build trust and cooperation with our neighboring countries in particular, who may have contributed relatively little to the problem but nevertheless bear the consequences.
Engaging alongside the Western Balkans as partners to achieve our 2040 climate goals is an opportunity to put this essential climate diplomacy into practice.
To fulfill this duty, the EU must build on the foundations already in place, but at the same time we must strengthen ties and gain trust with our Western Balkan neighbors.
The 2020 Sofia Declaration on the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans represents a historic commitment by the region’s leaders to align their climate goals with EU climate legislation.
By including the Western Balkans in our 2040 climate debate and process, we can deliver on our commitment to work meaningfully with our neighbors. This inclusion aims to achieve climate neutrality and foster true cohesion in our shared climate ambitions.
The exclusion of the Western Balkans from the debate on the EU’s 2040 climate targets sends a discouraging message about our commitment to the region’s integration and energy transition.
We should use the European Commission’s enlargement strategy and new growth plan for the Western Balkans as a framework to accelerate support for the Western Balkans’ transition to a renewable and sustainable economy, by offering technical assistance, strengthening capacities and financial support for the energy transition enabling projects.
However, if the EU wants to demonstrate its commitment to climate neutrality, we also need concrete actions to develop cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans on energy transition and climate action. Without it, a new growth plan risks jeopardizing our hard-won climate progress so far, as well as our future goals.
To this end, the Energy Community Treaty has established itself as an essential platform for cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans on energy and climate issues. The extension of climate work to 2040 to include the Western Balkans in the EU’s 2040 plans aligns perfectly with the Energy Community’s roadmap for decarbonization, which charts the path to follow to support the region’s ambition towards climate neutrality.
Recent energy crises have highlighted the need for safe, affordable and sustainable energy production.
EU-Western Balkans collaboration on renewable energy, energy efficiency and market integration will further reduce Europe’s dependence on imported energy and strengthen our energy security and the resilience of our system. Working together is crucial to phase out fossil fuels, increase ambitions for joint mitigation and improve financial support for the energy transition and climate action.
By adapting the EU financial framework, notably by restructuring and increasing financing programs for the Western Balkans, the energy transition will be accelerated and climate action projects will also benefit. Involving the Western Balkans in the EU 2040 climate policy framework can level the playing field when it comes to climate ambition and concrete actions.
The Western Balkans are not just our neighbors: they are an integral part of our common European future.
As we work to achieve our ambitious climate goals for 2040, we must cooperate with the Western Balkans to build a more sustainable, more united and more prosperous Europe for all.