Greece and Romania are the most active among European Union (EU) member states in Southeast Europe on climate change issues, while Bulgaria is still trying to catch up with much of the EU, according to a report on the implementation of the European Green Deal published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
Greece is supportive of the European Green Deal, and it views efforts to increase the use of renewable energy as an important objective. Also, there is general agreement among political parties on the need to tackle climate change, although some of the government’s decarbonization measures, such as plans to shut down coal-fired power plants, sometimes spark debate about the social impact of the green transition, according to the report.
Greece’s green transition efforts are driven by the need to attract foreign investors amid the economic crisis
The economic crisis is a key factor driving Greece towards the transition, which it hopes will attract the much needed foreign investment. However, Greece is also aiming to position itself as an international leader on the issue of climate action, the ECFR said, noting that the country is currently involved in a pilot project with German carmaker Volkswagen to transform an island into a model for climate-neutral mobility.
In its recommendations on how countries can add value to the impact of the European Green Deal, the ECFR says that Greece, if it wants to establish itself as a green champion, should team up with the “less ambitious” Romania and Bulgaria, which share some of its climate-related challenges. This, the report says, could push Romania and Bulgaria to adopt best green transition practices and join Greece in climate initiatives.
Romania could link Ukraine and Turkey to the EU’s green transition
The government in Romania sees the European Green Deal as an opportunity to develop a more environmentally friendly economy, while citizens are generally aware of the climate challenge. However, as is the case in Greece, the social impact of coal phaseout measures tends to generate nationwide controversy.
The report also notes that Romania has plans to improve interconnection between energy networks in the region, and that its geographical position enables it to link its Black Sea neighbors, such as Ukraine and Turkey, to the EU’s green transition.
Bulgaria has started softening its conservative climate policy thanks to the EU’s recovery fund
Bulgaria, which is likely to sustain its coal sector for the next 20-30 years, has pursued a rather conservative climate strategy, out of fear the green energy transition could adversely affect the economy, jobs, and citizens.
However, thanks to the opportunities offered by the EU’s recovery fund, the country’s position has started to shift a little, and now it seeks to increase the use of nuclear energy and natural gas, while its integrated energy and climate plan envisages developing more than 2.5 GW of renewables capacity by 2030.
Slovenia’s climate ambitions have decreased under the new government
In Slovenia, climate ambitions have markedly decreased under the new government, which took over in January 2020 and which does not regard the European Green Deal as an opportunity for economic recovery, according to the ECFR.
However, Slovenia could assume a leadership role in the Western Balkans by firmly embedding the European Green Deal in the EU’s enlargement policies given that the country is due to hold the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2021.
In Croatia, the EU’s climate efforts have generally had a positive reception from the government, citizens, and media outlets, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has marginalized the issue. Also, the adoption and implementation of key climate-related policies have faced repeated delays, according to the report.