The EU enlargement and the Energy challenge


Estimated time of reading: ~ 4 minutes

Just a few decades ago, the European Union’s enlargement agenda was viewed as a symbol of unity and stabilisation on the whole European continent. Nowadays, the EU enlargement process faces different and complex challenges: one of them is related to energy, which represents a recurring topic during the discussion between the EU representatives and the national governments of the countries interested in EU accession, due not only to the respect of the path of reform requested but also to the need for EU financial aid in the energy sector. Many of the aspiring EU members show a huge dependence on energy and also a lack of modern infrastructure, thus raising concerns over the whole European energy security and the pursuit of the ambitious climate goals. At the same time, there are also a lot of opportunities linked to the accession of potential new EU members, as those with high renewable energy capacity could offer a real contribution to the European Green Deal and the general aim for the bloc to become climate neutral by the year 2050. Other opportunities could arise from the integration of the new members’ energy grids into the EU ones, sustaining the creation of a more resilient and diversified energy market.

On the other hand, the process of the accession negotiations can surely help the EU candidates modernise and reform their internal energy sectors, in order to align them with European regulations and standards. This could be beneficial for those countries even before they obtain formal membership in the EU.

On the negative side, the majority of the potential member states, particularly those in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, still rely heavily on fossil fuels. Coal and gas have a predominance in the energy mixes of many non-EU countries, and the integration of their energy systems into the EU could be quite demanding, especially taking into account the already announced targets for the reduction of emissions in the bloc. Another potential threat to energy integration is the well-known reliance of many of the aspiring EU members on Russian oil and gas and their strong relations with Moscow, as is the case for Serbia. Such a dynamic raises tangible concerns about the potential manipulation of energy supplies and their exploitation for some political leverage, as it already happened in the past few years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequent crisis with the European countries.

Still, Brussels possesses the tools to forge a multi-pronged approach on these issues. As a matter of fact, the EU can use the accession talks in order to push for stricter environmental regulations and investments in renewable energy in the countries that are asking to enter the bloc. In this way, financial assistance and knowledge transfer can support infrastructure upgrades and grid modernization in both the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe. As for the external pressure posed by Russia and other actors, a potential solution could lie in strengthening various forms of energy security cooperation across the EU, with the inclusion of the potential members, so as to create a more unified front on the European continent when it comes to the risk of “energy blackmail.”

Finally, as for any issue related to the EU’s enlargement agenda, success in facing the energy challenges will depend on a real shared vision among the actual 27 Member States, as they will have to find a balance between the economic and political interests in expanding the bloc and the commitment to the ambitious energy and climate goals set for the future. The EU thus needs a clear strategy on the matter and to deploy all its powerful tools to make sure that the enlargement will not come at the cost of imbalances and internal weakness.

Written by: Francesco Marino

Related Articles

Back to Top