Moving forward – Climate foreign policy means EU integration

, by Frenkli Prengaj

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Moving forward – Climate foreign policy means EU integration

On 16th of October, the West Balkans Summit of the Berlin Process was held in Tirana. Albania was thus the first country of the region to host the talks of the Berlin Process, welcoming the prime ministers of the six West Balkan countries, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, several EU and financial institutions and many more. The goal of the Berlin Process is the improvement of regional cooperation and the promotion of EU-integration.

Expansion in times of geo-political crisis

Olaf Scholz’ central claim was: “The future of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. This promise holds true. And it applies today more than ever.” Scholz makes this promise for several reasons, but there is a new urgency due to the war in Ukraine and growing Russian influence. But for me as a young climate activist, one point, which tends to receive less public attention, is particularly important: the potential for climate protection and the possibility for the EU to view its expansion as an effective part of its climate foreign policy.

Ambitious climate foreign policy means expanding the European Union

Climate change is an imminent crisis caused by states with industrial histories, the consequences of which are initially suffered by countries with inadequate resources to take mitigating actions. Therefore, for activists in Albania, EU accession is not merely an aspiration; it is a path towards achieving ambitious climate protection objectives and securing their future. As a young person who has studied Earth Sciences and Environmental Engineering, I believe that our theoretical and scientific capacities have been exhausted. The only field where we can contribute is environmental governance, a concept that encompasses decision-making aspects related to climate change measures. Based on my education and work for one of the most important environmental organizations in the country, REC Albania, I have been actively engaged in youth forums and various conferences with the aim of enhancing the capacities of young people regarding environmental governance. Many of these projects and initiatives are financed by the EU or national institutions of EU member states. The most recent example is the Climate ConnAction Fellowship, organized by Das Progressive Zentrum, which brings together 25 young people from Southeastern Europe and Western Balkan countries to foster networking among them and elevate the concept of environmental governance to a higher level.

Demanding and promoting as a guiding principle

In the context of the global climate crisis, the European Union and its expansion policies are seen as a guiding light for climate activists in countries such as Albania, as EU membership is viewed as a crucial factor in promoting efforts for climate and environmental protection. By becoming part of the EU, Western Balkan countries would be demanded to achieve ambitious climate protection objectives set by the Union. This commitment assures climate activists that their governments will enforce stringent measures to address climate change, as stipulated in Chapter 27 of the accession process. In Albania’s case, the biggest success so far has been its pledge for climate neutrality by 2050 at the COP26, which is in line with EU ambition. Additionally, EU membership results in the allocation of new funds for candidate countries, a portion of which is channelled into climate change adaptation or mitigation processes. These additional funds, combined with the political solutions outlined in the accession chapters, provide hope and assurance that in small countries like Albania in the Western Balkans, addressing climate issues will not be overshadowed by other regional challenges.

Collaboration is key to successful climate diplomacy

The results of this year’s Berlin Process talks are the latest example of how EU expansion efforts can function as immediate climate foreign policy. Emphasis was laid on the decarbonisation of the energy supply and the switch to renewable energies. A regional “climate partnership Germany-West Balkans” was decided, which supports the fight against climate change and the use of renewable energies. Germany will co-finance this with a total of 1.5 billion euros until 2030. Moreover, Germany will give additional 73 million euros for the new project “Climate Programme Albania”, which is intended to advance the integration of renewable energies.

Technical assistance, access to green technologies and increased financial support for governmental institutions as well as civil society are pieces of a puzzle in the fight against the climate crisis and for a just transition. Without these pillars of support, the Western Balkans will struggle to secure funding for climate change measures as well as fall behind technologically, causing isolation on climate protection measures. Beyond these measures of concrete material support, the Western Balkans need EU accession as a regulating and guiding entity for the work of respective institutions and young activists like us, for the sake of expanding our networks and engaging in more productive work in the near future.

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