The Civil Society and Think Tank Forum (CSF) under the Berlin Process is scheduled to be held on October 14-15 in Tirana. The primary objective of the CSF is to facilitate constructive and inclusive discussions on regional challenges. The forum is structured around seven thematic working groups, each led by civil society organizations from the region. These working groups have actively engaged in a comprehensive consultation process, involving civil society and regional experts, to collaboratively formulate policy recommendations.
During the Civil Society Forum in Tirana, experts from the region will have the opportunity to discuss the topic of energy and the energy transition of the region. Within the framework of CSF, the Thematic Working Group led by the Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) has developed recommendations related to two key areas of action: the rule of law and just and inclusive energy transition.
Mirko Popović, the Director of RERI, explains for European Western Balkans that the Energy Community Treaty expires in 2026, and there is a need to consider extending the Treaty based on a report on its implementation, which will also include recommendations for overcoming the challenges faced by the Energy Community and the signatory parties in the previous period.
“The European Commission should prepare a report for the European Parliament and Council. The previous report was published in 2011. It is necessary to ensure an appropriate response to violations of the Treaty by Western Balkan countries, i.e. to establish mechanisms for enforcing the Treaty and preventing pollution, human rights violations, and unauthorized state aid”, says Popović.
He adds that civil society organizations recommend a more significant role of the European Parliament and national parliaments in discussions about extending the Treaty, aiming to strengthen the democratic capacity and accountability of all signatory parties in implementing the Energy Community Treaty.
By 2030, Western Balkan countries are expected to make numerous decisions to align themselves more closely with EU standards and goals towards achieving decarbonization. These commitments were made by the region’s countries when they adopted the Green Agenda, a regional development strategy aimed at addressing the challenges of climate change and green transition. It also aims to assist Western Balkans in aligning their environmental regulations with European standards and norms.
However, Popović emphasizes that after almost 20 years of implementing the Energy Community Treaty, the region’s problems are nearly the same as they were in 2006. He recalls that the United Nations General Assembly has recognized the right to a healthy and sustainable environment as a human right.
According to Popović, there are significant differences in the energy sector among the countries of the region, but there are also numerous shared challenges. He explains that economies heavily reliant and coal-based electricity production have faced difficulties in implementing the Large Combustion Plants Directive and Industrial Emissions Directive, which have made it challenging to reduce pollution from thermal power plants.
“This has resulted in a situation where countries are violating their international obligations (the Energy Community Treaty), thereby jeopardizing the health and human rights of their citizens and those of the EU. Within the Energy Community, there has not been a suitable response to contract violations by signatory parties. Adherence to the rule of law is a critical issue in the energy transition, and it is simultaneously a key prerequisite for Western Balkan countries’ accession to the EU”, believes Mirko Popović from RERI.
Nevertheless, Popović emphasizes that the region’s energy transition should be fair and inclusive, taking into account the issue of extreme energy poverty and addressing the challenges faced by the most vulnerable groups and regions economically dependent on coal exploitation.
“Energy poverty is a problem that hinders and prevents the decarbonization of the Western Balkans region. Therefore, the decarbonization process must encompass three key characteristics – democratization, demonopolization, and decentralization, primarily in electricity production, with an active role for households and businesses as producers and consumers of electricity”, says Popović.
Speaking about the role of the EU in developing the region’s capacity in this area, Popović believes that the EU integration process is the key driver of change in the region, which makes the EU’s role crucial.
He said that the EU should facilitate the gradual inclusion of the Western Balkans in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), adding that would be a clear indicator of the perspective for Western Balkans countries to join the EU.
“An important precondition for the region’s inclusion in the ETS is the establishment of a regulatory framework and effective implementation of greenhouse gas emissions monitoring, reporting, and verification in each of the Western Balkan countries”, underlines Popović.
According to him, the EU must provide necessary conditions for emissions trading for the region, with guarantees that financial resources will be used to expand capacity for renewable energy production and reduce pollution from thermal power facilities.