Open Balkan leaders call for EU help with looming energy crisis

by Cristian Florescu

As a tough winter with the promise of power cuts and electricity price hikes looms large over Europe, Western Balkan leaders gathered for the Open Balkan summit in Belgrade last week and called upon the EU for support.

Open Balkan is a somewhat controversial regional initiative spearheaded by Serbian President Aleksander Vucic, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, and North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski.

“A difficult winter is approaching. We have seen that there will be help from the EU. Partial help or support to buy the necessary energy will be significant and excellent for all our countries. It is also a necessity for them to survive the winter,” Vucic said speaking about concerns about the winter ahead.

He emphasised that the region’s leaders are working on finding the best way to mitigate the potential fallout of the crisis.

Rama said the upcoming winter is likely to be the hardest faced by Albanians and the region at large.

Albania generates almost 100% hydropower but does not have the capacity to store the energy. This means that when production is high, energy is sold to other countries during the spring and summer. Come winter, when demand increases, Albania must repurchase energy from its neighbours, usually fossil-based energy, which is soaring in cost.

Also in attendance were Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and outgoing Montenegrin prime minister Dritan Abazovic.

Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are currently not a part of the initiative leading to calls from the EU and other stakeholders for more unity in the region.

Both countries, however, fear that joining the initiative, particularly with Serbia’s involvement, could hinder their EU aspirations.

The EU, thus far, has remained measured in its comments on Open Balkan, reiterating the importance of progressing towards EU membership but being cautious to say it supports regional cooperation, although it should include the whole Western Balkan Six.

During the summit, the leaders signed several agreements, including one on food security, a memorandum of understanding on regional cinematography, an agreement to cooperate in mining and energy, and an operational plan for civil emergencies.

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