EU turning Balkans into fossil fuel highway, say NGOs

The EU is encouraging dirty energy production by funding oil pipelines and fossil fuel power stations in the Balkans, an international group of NGOs said.

Current and planned fossil fuel and pipeline projects across south-east Europe will consume at least $18bn in funds, much of it coming from international financial institutions (IFIs) like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank, the Bankwatch NGO network said.

The EU plays an important role in perpetuating the region’s dirty energy trends by funding projects such as the Thessaloniki-Skopje pipeline through the EBRD, Ana Colovic of Bankwatch Macedonia told edie:

“The Balkan region has an important transit role for oil and gas from the East. It is very disappointing to see the EBRD still stuck on financing projects like the Thessaloniki – Skopje pipeline.

“A different policy from the EU could change the direction of energy policy in the Balkans. Macedonia, like other candidates for EU accession, is very keen to join the Union and local government policy is strongly influenced by EU trends,” she said.

The EU had established a framework for closer energy ties with Balkan countries with the Energy Community Treaty in October 2005 – a “pre-accession tool” aiming to extend European energy, environmental and renewables policies to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria and Kosovo.

Bankwatch argues that current EU policy is not putting these goals into action, but instead encouraging dirty energy production in the region by buying it for internal EU use as well as by funding infrastructure.

Zvezdan Kalmar of Serbian group Center for Ecology and Sustainable Development said: “Most of the [IFI-funded] projects comprise transit infrastructure or power stations for exporting dirty energy to the EU, putting south-east Europe’s people and environment at risk for the sake of low energy prices, and blatantly contradicting political statements on combating climate change.”

The Balkans region holds the record for the worst energy efficiency in Europe, and at the same time has significant wind, hydropower and biomass potential, according to EBRD’s own assessments.

On a visit to Bulgaria this week, EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas acknowledged the need for better energy efficiency in the region: “There is great potential to improve energy efficiency, which translates into cost savings,” he told an audience at a Bulgarian university on Monday.

Meanwhile, although both the World Bank and the EBRD have said they will not finance new nuclear projects, there are fears that the controversial Belene nuclear power station in Bulgaria will receive funding on the grounds that work on it has already started, and that therefore it is not strictly new.

“The government is convincing people that it will be able to get money to continue work on Belene nuclear power station from IFIs,” said Ana Colovic.

A map of “dirty energy projects” published this week can be accessed on the Bankwatch website.

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie