Western Balkans Energy Transition: Fit or Fail for the EU?

On June 17th, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung EU Office in Brussels and Dialogue Southeast Europe in Sarajevo organized an online presentation and commentary of the initial results of the FES SOE Study on the Political Economy of Energy Transition (PEET) in Southeast Europe. The panel was organized in the light of EU's upcoming Fit for 55 plans to evaluate the state of the arts when it comes to energy transition in the Western Balkans, is the region fit or fail for the EU?

The event was opened by a welcome address from Dr. Ralf Melzer, on behalf of the FES SOE, who highlighted the importance of continuing the discussion on energy transition in the region. The office started already in May a set of briefings on Inclusive Energy Transition as an Opportunity. It continued with this event through a new perspective, which is the political economy of the process. The welcome address was followed by a brief presentation from Pippa Gallop (CEE Bankwatch Network) on main findings from the PEET Study, including slow pace of the energy transition in the region.

Ms. Gallop highlighted that an energy transition is not successful if it is not done sustainably. the rule of law and its relations to the governance sector was recognized as a critical issue preventing the advancement of the energy transition. While this is a challenge that goes beyond this process, it nevertheless is causing the change to be lagging. As Ms. Gallop notes, one particularly dangerous sentiment is that there seems to be a perception that this is allowable for the Western Balkans to be behind, whereas there is no time to wait. On the brighter side, the international community's presence, such as through the work of the Energy Community Secretariat, is essential in bringing the energy transition to the proverbial table. That is why Ms. Gallop concluded that consistency within the messages from the international community is one of the keys to advancing the transition process in the region.

After the presentation, panelists had the opportunity to comment on the Study results reflecting on theirwork. Janez Kopač (Energy Community Secretariat), Lutz Weischer (Germanwatch), Delara Burkhardt (MEP) and Alexandar Vigne (DG NEAR) comprised the panel. All panelists highlighted the timeliness and comprehensiveness of the PEET Study that they got to see a glimpse of in preparation for the discussion. In addition to emphasizing the benefits of the Study, panelists also highlighted the need for systemic changes, starting with completing the first energy transition for a successful second transition-decarbonization, and the political level in the region that will bring the energy transition into focus. The dimension of energy transition in the Western Balkans is also crucial within the EU integration process, not only because it would advance the transition process but also because it represents an important external dimension of the EU Green Deal. Energy transition inevitably holds a geopolitical dimension, and the Western Balkans are at the geographical focal point of it.

This strongly relates to the question of the EU's sovereignty (or otherwise said strategic autonomy). Therefore, speakers also highlighted the importance of the EU's internal policy coherence and effectiveness, in particular in implementing the EU Green Deal. Only if the EU proofs that its own transition can be managed economically sustainable, and socially just leaving no one behind, it will inspire trust beyond its own borders in the neighborhood and send a strong political message. The EU therefore needs to be a strong partner and promotor for the energy transition in the region, both by offering additional incentives combined with effective conditionalities.

The online event was moderated by Dave Keating (EURACTIV) as a part of the FES SOE and EURACTIV media partnership.

The Political Economy of Energy Transition in Southeast Europe is in the last stages of preparation for publishing, and it will be coming out later this summer, on FES SOE website. Stay tuned for updates on EURACTIV as well.

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