Schulz at the Socio-ecological Forum in Skopje: „The EU must understand that Western Balkan countries are also part of Europe, and they must be involved in its strategies“

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The implications of the current energy crisis in countries of the Western Balkan and the region and ways how to overcome it were the focus of the first panel of the Socio-Ecological Forum, taking place today in Skopje. High-level representatives from the region and Europe raised issues regarding the impact of political decisions that are to enable a socially-just and energy transformation, during the introductory panel titled “A socially-just transformation for energy self-sufficient Europe.”

Martin Schulz, President of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and former President of the European Parliament; Dimitar Kovachevski, Prime Minister of North Macedonia; Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of Kosovo; Ann Linde, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden; Hristina Spasovska, Professor at the “Sts. Cyril and Methodius” University and Damian Gjiknuri, General Secretary of Albanian SocialistParty, together discussed the prospects of establishing closer cooperation between European progressive leaders with a view to strengthening security, sustainability of the economy and overcoming fossil fuels poverty in Southeast Europe.  

In light of this, Martin Schulz underscored the relevance and pressing need for a social and energy transformation of the countries in the region, stressing the possibility for close cooperation with European institutions when implementing policies in the environmental area, in order to be more efficient in tackling the challenges posed by the Green Agenda. Schulz:„We need worldwide solutions, and at the same time we are witnessing that the structures and institutions that we need to reach worldwide solutions are weakened. International cooperation is needed, especially the role of the UN which is under threat, it is especially difficult to reach a common binding conclusion among global stakeholders. The UN Security Council is in an absurd situation, considering that the country which is causing the problems could block the decisions, as is the case with Russia, which is breaking international rules permanently.” Schulz believes that this is the reason why countries are pushed towards national solutions which brings about a heterogeneous situation.  “We have to make all the political investments necessary in this social and ecological transformation, citizens should be told that there will be changes, especially due to the war in Ukraine which directly affects the increase of energy and food prices, which is why we need long-term strategies if we wish to tackle these problems.

The Former European Parliament President send across a message to the European Union from the Forum: „The EU must understand that Europe is not only its Member-States, Europe is also the United Kingdom and the Western Balkan countries, which I hope will become future EU-member states. All of them must be included in the strategies of the EU, which has financial resources that should be set aside especially for the countries affected by this economic and energy crisis.” He emphasized that there cannot be double standards: “Considering that I am in North Macedonia, I can say out loud that it has fulfilled all the criteria, especially with the signing of the Prespa Agreement, which allowed for Greece to lift the veto for the start of negotiations with the EU, but then there was a veto from France and this must not happen again.”

Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovachevski welcomed the opportunity to discuss this topic which is of key importance, not only in the region and in Europe, but also at a global level. Commenting on the challenges of the social-ecological transition, he pointed out that the biggest blow to the imbalance on the electricity market came after the Russian aggression on Ukraine, leading to shortage, especially of gas, which affected the price of electricity. “What needs to be done are three principles: cooperation, investment and solidarity.” In times of crisis, it is always good to invest and use it during the transformation.” He also reflected on the cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkan countries through the common market and the aid package that was also intended for the countries of the region, which is a good an example of cooperation.  

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that overcoming complex problems requires building strong alliances in order to build resilient societies in Europe and beyond. “The energy crisis can only be overcome if we seek regional solutions, and not each country to seek solutions by itself. The Kosovar government is laying the new foundations for the future energy sector in order to provide clean energy, a system that will enable a socially just transition. We are working on integrating the markets, and for us the integration with the Albanian energy market is of particular importance.” Kurti clarified that all countries are in the process of energy transition and transformation and that all should ensure a just transformation, and concerning Kosovo he emphasized that it should particularly take care of its employees working in coal-fired power plant so that nobody would be left behind and unprotected. Kurti: In essence, every policy should be geared towards social justice, we should foster energy policy that will provide energy that citizens will be able to afford and that will enable their active participation in the energy market. In the near future, we plan to install solar panels and efficient solar heating systems in households that are based on solar energy. Investments in energy efficient households should be increased.”

Former Foreign Affairs Minister of Sweden, Ann Linde emphasized social cohesion as a key component in creating a social framework that will guarantee inclusiveness in societies where the economic and energy crisis affects socially vulnerable groups the most. She emphasized that issues in the area of environment and security are becoming increasingly relevant “Social development must be a major component in that process. A complete transformation of our societies is needed, especially in Southeast Europe where the challenge is even greater. Up to 40% of the population in these countries cannot heat their homes. Climate transition is the most important challenge because it has social and economic consequences, which means that it will affect the everyday lives of citizens, especially in the context of jobs.” Linde underlined that the transition must guarantee a place on the labour market for citizens and from there the just transition must also take into account the new skills that need to be mastered in order to get to new jobs, given the fact that many jobs will also be lost. “The progressive movement may be the most important force in achieving a just transition, not perceiving the energy transition as an enemy,” former Swedish Foreign Minister Linde said in her conclusion.

Professor at the “Ss. Cyril and Methodius” University, Hristina Spasevska, reflected on the socially just transition, defining it as the coming together of all actors who can contribute to fair regional development in the industry, public administration, government, civil society and others who are sharing this objective. “They all need to join forces and work together in order to find the best models for their regions and communities and to create quality jobs. This model can be used for the transformation of energy from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources,” Spasevska pointed out.

Secretary General Gjiknuri emphasized that what Albania is doing is not much different from the challenges in other countries: “Albania depended only on one source, hydro-power, which is a vulnerability in these times of crisis – it emphasized the importance of finding multiple sources of energy. The main policy of all the countries in the region and Europe should be to combine these different sources, which would make them competitive on the energy market.”

The Socio-Ecological Forum (SEF) took place on 22 November 2022 in Skopje, organized by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Skopje Office, the Olof Palme International Center, and the Progres Institute for Social Democracy.