Administrator in charge Ana Dujmovic, Assistant Nadja Kačičnik
On 5 February 2020, the European Commission published its Communication Enhancing the accession process – A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans, proposing a new methodology for candidate countries of the Western Balkans with the objective to render the accession process more coherent, respond to concerns of certain Member States expressed in October 2019 and enable the enlargement process to continue.
The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has underlined in her political priorities that the EU "must demonstrate to our friends in the Western Balkans that we share the same continent, the same history, the same culture – and that we will share the same destiny too. Our door remains open". In the Annex to her Green Deal roadmap, Ms von der Leyen announced a "Green Agenda for the Western Balkans" being prepared for 2020.
The Green Agenda for the Western Balkans is planned to be a part of an ambitious Economic Development and Investment Plan to be presented by the European Commission in May 2020. It should comprise five thematic pillars:
- Decarbonisation: clean energy and smart transport
- Pollution: air, water and soil monitoring and prevention
- Circular economy: sustainable use of resources
- Agri-food measures: modern agriculture and food quality
- Biodiversity: keeping the region pristine and promoting ecotourism.
Achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal, making Europe the first carbon neutral continent by 2050 can only be possible with an upstream involvement of the Western Balkans. We must keep in mind that the Western Balkans are geographically in the heart of the European continent, surrounded by the European Union on all sides, and that the effects of climate change do not take into account the fact that Athens is part of the European Union and that Belgrade is not. Therefore, by their very geographical situation, the Western Balkans are especially concerned by the Green Deal.
Still heavily dependent on ageing coal-fired thermal power plants, the population of the Western Balkans is exposed to some of the highest concentrations of air pollution in Europe. But the region also has an enormous potential in natural resources and an extraordinary biodiversity. The challenges it faces as regards decarbonisation, depollution of air, water and soil, connectivity and climate change in general can be turned into opportunities by learning and using alternative approaches, circular economy, waste management, greener energy and multidimensional connectivity solutions. The region can avoid committing some of the mistakes that more developed economies have made, limit the damage before it is done and leapfrog in areas such as innovation and protection of biodiversity.
The civil society has a particularly important role to play on the subject, especially as regards specific political contexts in the Western Balkans. It will only work if the society as a whole is fully on board.
The transition from carbon-based to green economies has to include all aspects of multidimensional interconnectivity, spanning from energy, transport and distribution infrastructures to the future digital agenda. Furthermore, interconnectivity is a strong factor in regional integration between the Western Balkan countries. In achieving the transition to a green economy, business has to be considered as part of the solution. To that end, the involvement of business and other civil society associations in the Western Balkans in shaping and implementing measures to promote smart and intelligent, circular and bio-based economy is essential. In this process social policies and social dialogue is a vital guarantee of cohesive society that pursues jobs for all and reduces inequalities and exclusion.
The opinion will give clear encouragement to civil dialogue and specify the clear added value of civil society in the negotiations process, often neglected by governments in the Western Balkans.