27 civil society organisations have sent a joint letter to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, questioning a recent statement by Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi that the EU would help Montenegro to build a liquified gas (LNG) terminal at the port of Bar, and calling on the EU not to support the project.
Montenegro is not connected to international gas networks and uses only small volumes of the fossil fuel, putting it in a more favourable position for decarbonisation than the EU, which is struggling to free itself from fossil gas imports after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Western Balkan countries as a whole are much less gas-dependent than the EU and have committed to phase out fossil fuel use by 2050. But as explained in the letter, the LNG terminal, if built, would create a carbon lock-in for Montenegro, that the country would not be able to resolve before the 2050s.
A whole network of new pipelines would need to be built, with the government also proposing three new gas power plants. It is unrealistic that Montenegro, based on its size, limited institutional capacity and empty state coffers, would be able to make another transition from gas towards renewables by 2050. Yet the European Commission has in recent years actively encouraged increasing fossil gas consumption across the Western Balkans.
Nataša Kovačević of CEE Bankwatch: ‘We hope Commissioner Várhelyi’s statement does not represent the European Commission’s stance on the Montenegro LNG project – he has already recently been caught speaking without first consulting his colleagues. But the fact remains that the Commission’s support for increasing fossil gas use in the Western Balkans is irresponsible and counterproductive. Our low gas dependency is a plus, not a minus, in a future based on electrification of heating and transport.’
Diana Milev-Čavor of Eco-Team: ‘It makes no sense to increase our energy import dependence, irrespective of the source of the gas. Just as the EU is finally realising that its own energy system cannot be based on fossil gas imports, the Commission must urgently help to stop the Western Balkans repeating this expensive mistake. New infrastructure will end up either as stranded assets or as a fossil gas lock-in that will hinder renewables development in the region.’
Zenepa Lika of Dr Martin Schneider-Jacoby (MSJA): ‘An energy-efficient transition to 100 per cent renewables can happen relatively quickly in Montenegro if the political will is there. The European Commission and other international donors must focus on tackling electricity distribution losses, increasing the use of heat pumps and solar, innovative heat storage technologies and deep renovation of residential buildings instead of diverting attention and funding with fossil gas.