From: Alice Taylor
Open Balkan Summit Leaders Call on EU for Help Amid Energy Crisis

As a tough winter with the promise of power cuts and unaffordable electricity looms large over Europe, Western Balkan leaders gathered at the Open Balkan summit in Belgrade on Friday (2 September) to devise a plan while pleading with the EU for help.

Open Balkan is a somewhat controversial regional initiative spearheaded by Serbian President Aleksander Vucic, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, and North Macedonian Prime Minister 8888.

“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,” said Vucic on the situation ahead.

He emphasised that the leaders are working together to find the best way to mitigate the crisis.

“Everything we will need for ourselves, everything that will be available to Serbia, will also be available to Albania and North Macedonia…It is a great honour to be a member of the Open Balkans. I am very proud that we created something like this. We can walk not only side by side but also be better than the rest of the world,” he added.

Rama added that this winter would be the hardest faced by Albanian and the region.

“This winter is likely to be the hardest we have encountered. We have not had easy winters in the Balkans. Today, as we speak, there are hours of power outages in Kosovo,” he said, adding that in Britain, Germany and France, there are plans for blackouts and scaling back commercial activity.

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.

“We don’t have the opportunity to store the excess water when we have a lot of rain; in our winter period, we depend on imports. We need patience, support and cooperation”, said Rama.

Additionally, many households throughout the region turn to wood burners during the winter to avoid higher energy bills. But this year, when bills will be at their highest, they face increased wood prices and even shortages.

He also levied criticism against the EU and called on them not to repeat their mistakes during the pandemic.

“The EU should not do the shame it did during the pandemic with us. They all remember very well how the Balkan countries were forced to run to China, Russia, and Turkey to start the rescue operation of nurses and doctors for vaccination. The EU closed itself and saw only within the walls of its own castle. And the leaders of the EU have accepted that this was a shame,” said Rama.

Abazovic said cooperation, especially in the current context, is essential and that Montenegro should pursue similar paths.

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.