What’s cooking in Brussels

By Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

Ajvar is a side dish consisting mainly of red peppers, chili and garlic, sometimes eggplant or tomatoes, and is popular in all Balkan countries. The recipe varies by region, as does its level of spiciness. And intensity, be it culinary or political, has been shown more than once by the Balkan region. This time, it is about the intensity of the effects of global warming in the region. And, like ajvar, it can be intense.

“Climate change impacts on agriculture and energy production have serious implications regionally,” a recent analysis by the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) states. The document points out that agriculture in the Western Balkans accounts for 11 percent of total GDP, and hydropower provides 37 percent of total energy in the region.

The document reiterates that the Balkans is an “ethnically diverse geographic grouping of ten countries“: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Today, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia are part of the European Union. And Ukraine’s new status as an EU candidate country, granted unanimously last June, has only fueled frustration among the Balkan countries that do not (yet) belong and keep knocking on the EU’s door.

Influence from China and Russia

“In a region where tensions [between neighbors] have never been eased, the situation will be further disrupted by climate change and the war in Ukraine, but also by rising food and energy prices. It will be difficult to keep markets and economies open, and we hear more and more voices calling for protectionism,” says Genady Kondarev, senior associate for Central and Eastern Europe at think tank E3G, speaking to Europe.Table.

He continued, “Like elsewhere in Europe, the Balkans are experiencing a hot and dry summer, which is affecting agricultural yields.” And even before the poor results became apparent, countries like Bulgaria wanted to restrict Ukrainian imports of cheap grain to protect their domestic market.

As a side effect, the impacts of global warming on the agricultural and energy sectors also affect the region’s security and political stability. For example, the IMCCS analysis stresses that increased climate change impacts could exacerbate existing post-conflict tensions, jeopardize Europe’s climate goals, and increase the region’s vulnerability to Chinese and Russian influence.

Genady Kondarev of E3G says: “Currently, Russia is exerting a serious and decisive influence in Serbia and Hungary. We have seen, for example, that Hungary, despite being part of the EU, receives gas from Russia under unclear conditions and has restricted its exports to the EU, which violates the rules of the European energy market and the call for solidarity.”

Renewed dependence on Russia

Bulgaria is the next country on the list. The previous government, which was pro-EU and pro-Western, barely lasted six months. Bulgaria is currently in a kind of state of emergency. “The country is traditionally pro-Russia,” Kondarev says. Under the previous government, Bulgaria tried to break away from Russian influence – not entirely voluntarily, in part, because Russia stopped gas supplies, although Bulgaria did not break the contract.

“Under the transitional government, there is a risk that the trend will reverse and Bulgaria will revert to a state of dependence on Russian energy carriers. It is becoming increasingly clear that Sofia is turning to Gazprom again for gas,” Kondarev says.

And IMCCS analysts drill deeper on the “ripple effect”: “Additionally, climate-induced migration flows from the Middle East and Africa through the region may stoke far right extremism. The outbreak of conflict in neighboring Ukraine only further heightens these concerns.” Italy sends its regards.

What does all this mean for the EU? Let the IMCCS have the closing word: “If the region does not feel supported by their European partners, it is possible that those promoting a new order will continue to mobilize support. If climate impacts on livelihoods, economic growth, and migration in the region remain unaddressed, discontent with the current system may grow, making violence along ethnic lines an even greater risk.”

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