“If Brussels does nothing, unrest in the region is not only a threat – Russia and China could increase their influence.” This is how the German “Welt” assesses the situation in the Western Balkans in light of the energy crisis.
“The region is receptive to external influences, which was painfully demonstrated by the Russian attack on Ukraine.” The decade-long failure of the region’s EU integration disappointed the local population, which paved the way for anti-Western propaganda. The energy crisis will once again test the strategic ability of the European Union to defend its interests in the neighborhood”, Welt assesses.
The German newspaper quotes Angelus Morina from the Brussels-based think tank European Council for International Relations, who states that bottlenecks in energy supply in the region are not unusual, because there is no real infrastructure that would enable uninterrupted supply in the winter months. “Against the background of the current crisis, rising prices and insufficient supply of energy, the region will suffer doubly”, Morina assesses.
North Macedonia has already declared a state of emergency in the energy sector, Kosovo has already introduced regular electricity restrictions, according to “Welt” , and also the announcement of Albanian President Edi Rama that the upcoming winter will be the hardest so far.
Social unrest due to the crisis?
The analysis of the World Bank from May is cited, according to which “Albania and North Macedonia are the most sensitive to price changes.” Although Kosovo produces more electricity than it needs in the summer, it has to import electricity in the winter.”
“In Serbia, for various reasons, the production of coal has decreased significantly since 2021, so the country is now directed to greater imports. In addition, the population in the region can hardly keep up with the rise in prices. Even three years ago, a third of the population in North Macedonia could not heat their households sufficiently – they are the first in Europe in this respect. According to those reports, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia are also among the most affected countries.”
Angeluše Morina estimates that all this, combined with the rise in food prices, could lead to social unrest.
The role of Russia, China and Turkey
“Destabilization of the region is contrary to the interests of the European Union,” the German newspaper states and continues: “The Western Balkans is strategically important as a land bridge between the southern wing of the North Atlantic Treaty and Central Europe.” But where the EU is not sufficiently present, other actors are expanding. Previous years have shown that. In the case of Russia, this is now particularly visible, but China, as a systemic rival of the West, is propagating an illiberal world order throughout the world. Anti-Western rhetoric is also received because many people in the Western Balkans are disappointed with the slow accession processes.”
Brussels expert Morina for “Welt” assesses that in terms of energy, Moscow and Beijing currently do not have much to offer, because Russia is preoccupied with other things, and Beijing likes to solve everything bilaterally. But, as stated, Turkey’s offer to help with gas supply appeared – Turkish President Erdogan is visiting the countries of the region this week .
A chance for the Balkans
“Turkey is, admittedly, as a member of NATO, actually an ally of the West, but Erdogan’s foreign policy solos often cause tension within the military alliance”, the German newspaper assesses.
Angeluše Morina, however, sees an opportunity for the Balkan countries, because they are located on changed gas supply routes, so, he expects, those countries will probably receive some short-term help from the EU.
“In energy matters, the European Union would have to start treating the region as part of the EU,” Morina says, adding that this is “necessary because of the geographical proximity, because of the potential, but also because of the risk that the Western Balkan region represents due to attempts to influence from outside”, DW writes.