Energy is like glue, not explosive
Confidence in the dialogue, which was initiated with the Brussels Agreement in 2013, and led under the auspices of the EU, has been lost due to internal political constraints and the needs of the two sides, but also due to inertia and the disengagement of the world capitals. The collapse of multilateralism accompanied with weakness of diplomacy has only strengthened the amplitude of misunderstanding and has threatened with a new frozen conflict in Europe.
Restoring the dialogue leading to normalization can prove to be as challenging as its initiation was. If there is a topic that can further “open” the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, why not energy?
A number of arguments work in favor of such proposition. Let us consider three: energy is the universal currency that everyone needs. Energy connectivity and cooperation are presumptions for sustainable development and progress. Thirdly, energy security, i.e., safe supply of energy products at predictable and competitive price for all actors in the region is primarily based on regional cooperation. Energy independence and self-sufficiency are myths.
After all, isn’t it the EU, as the most successful peace project in the history of the old Continent, which was established on the ruins of the two world wars and on the awareness of the necessity for uniting resources – coal and steel. Energy may be like glue, not explosive. In a similar way, the need for energy was in the center of Brandt’s “Eastern Politics” that led to German-Soviet dialogue and, ultimately, to the end of the Cold War.
If we accept that energy connectivity is a powerful stabilizer and a test of solidarity for all participants in the process of technical dialogue, and that it is not only Belgrade and Pristina, we have to acknowledge that it has two dimensions – the past and the future.
The past is characterized by outdated infrastructure, the dominant role of the coal and hydro energy, low energy efficiency with low energy prices and divided markets with limited space for trade and cooperation. The fact that the energy systems of Belgrade and Pristina were created, developed and reached their zenith in the former Yugoslavia means that they are designed and implemented as complementary rather than competitive.
In the terms of the future, however, they have to be reformed and set on the foundations presented in the Brussels Agreement, with the simultaneous energy transformation, fossil fuel clearance and de-carbonization, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. The fact that our region spends 2 to 3 times more coal than the EU average and 50% less natural gas, illustrates the necessity for changes in energy access in the best possible way. Data indicate that the production of one unit of GDP in the Western Balkans requires several times more energy than in the EU.
This would, with unresolved property issues (the example of Trepca), unresolved monetary relations and social benefits from the past three decades present an additional burden to those agreed in the 2014 Energy Agreement.
In the dialogue, Belgrade and Pristina are going through the same institutional framework, from the Stabilization and Association Agreement to the membership in the Energy Community. There is also the Berlin process with the linking agenda (transport and energy, above all), but various forms of regional cooperation as well. At the same time, Brussels announces the unification of energy in the region means greater rapprochement with the EU Energy Union. If not already, this request will very soon be positioned on the cabinet tables in Belgrade and Pristina.
There is another topic that will lead to the necessity of reaching the agreement on energy in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. That is the topic of climate change; which at the time of the interruption of dialogue and even the escalation of contradictions sounds futuristic and unrealistic. With energy alignment on lignite for electricity production that emits huge amounts of harmful gases, our region will face the need to reduce their emissions. For example, Belgrade has a relatively balanced supply and demand of electricity, with 75% being mainly produced from coal, and the rest from energy coming from water. In Pristina, coal is the source of 97% of electricity, with occasional need for electricity import.
The social, health and economic consequences of ignoring uncontrolled emissions of harmful gases can outweigh the benefits of relatively cheap electricity. Some studies show that the reduction of pollution from coal thermal power plants in our region would save up to 6,460 lives a year, and health care cost would be reduced by 2,724 million euros.
This topic is not on the agenda of the dialogue, but it is in regional forums and it cannot be ignored. In the case of climate change, there are no winners; we are all potential losers.
In order to perceive the significance and possibilities for successfully passing this crossroads at which Belgrade and Pristina find themselves, it is necessary to fully appreciate and implement what was agreed, respect the institutional framework and rules of the game in this area on both sides. Skills, knowledge and capacity are in mutually acceptable solutions, and not in the tendency to push the other side into the corner in order to recognize defeat or make a reckless reaction.
In the end, it should be noted that the future of democracy, progress and peace in Europe is becoming increasingly uncertain. The solution, in the part where Belgrade and Pristina can make an influence, is not in the inertia, but in the continued dialogue, a proactive approach and a persistent, uninterrupted quest for the smallest common denominator.
Any other alternative offered is destructive and self-exterminate. When it comes to energy, there is no sword that can overcome this and, at the same time, preserve the peace, stability and European perspective of the region. No matter how complicated, the crossroad can be passed with a lot of effort and patience, and then embedded into a single regional and European network. If it is necessary to repeat, energy is a universal currency that is always going to be needed and necessary, even in relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
Milan Simurdić, Former Ambassador of Republic of Serbia to Croatia and Norway, written following the proposal by BFPE.
This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Kosovo-Serbia Policy Advocacy Group Consortium and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.