Positive energies in the Western Balkans

Source: M. (Maroš) Sefčovič i, published on Wednesday, July 15 2015.

There was something remarkable about that moment: 15 ministers from both EU and non-EU countries who enthusiastically applauded the agreement to further integrate their countries' energy systems. Of course they all had good business cases of how it would serve their markets. But there was also a strong sense of solidarity and genuine trust among neighbours. Some of these same countries were fierce opponents only 20 years ago. This time, there was nothing but positive energies.

This visit started off as a 'classic' stop of the Energy Union Tour, presenting the benefits of the Energy Union for Slovenia and Croatia to their respective governments through very constructive meetings with PM Milanović, President Grabar-Kitarović, and Slovenian Minister Gašperšič, as well as stakeholders in both countries. But it ended up covering much much more. The high-level international events in both Ljubljana and Dubrovnik allowed Commissioner Arias Cañete and myself to address not only national concerns but also to advance far wider regional integration.

Over a hundred national regulators, energy companies, transmission system operators and distributors from across the continent attended the largest annual conference of the European Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) in Ljubljana. It was therefore the perfect setting for me to address the audience and stress the importance for European countries to coordinate their electricity systems. If we want energy to cross borders we need to make sure our electricity grids speak the same "language". I also learned about the wholesale energy market integrity and transparency (REMIT) system which monitors cross-border energy flows and prevents fraud. Finally, our host were kind enough to teach us what Slovene Kremšnita was; unfortunately, given the very short length of my stay - the closest I got to exploring Slovene cuisine was through this PPT presentation…

Dubrovnik was next. This magnificent city attracts tourists all year round. But last week there was a unique mix of people: ministers from across the region joined the Central East South Europe Gas Connectivity (CESEC) Summit, high-level politicians from around the world attending the Croatia Forum, and very high-level musicians who came to play at the Dubrovnik Festival. Similarly to the case of Slovene Kremšnita; I didn't get to listen to the musicians play but we must have shared the plane since all overheads compartments were full of musical instruments…

Both the Croatia Forum and CESEC Summit revolved around integration and international cooperation. The former brought to Dubrovnik over 60 governmental delegations to discuss how to improve and streamline development policies. It was therefore an opportunity for me to present the role of energy within the context and to hold a diplomatic marathon, first with a Croatian PM Milanović and then with a series of delegations from around the world (US, Georgia, Hungary, Ukraine, and others) discussing the latest geopolitical developments.

The CESEC Summit saw the signature of a new set of agreements which, with the help of the European Commission, will consolidate the gas infrastructure of countries from across the entire region of Central and South East Europe. I was touched by the enthusiasm of the ministers, as I mentioned above but this was far more than a mere symbolic gesture of solidarity: the integration of the energy market is a crucial step towards creating an internal energy market, which will render our markets more competitive and our economies more resilient to supply disruptions.

Last but not least, the Citizen Dialogue event, which I held with Croatia's Economy Minister Ivan Vrdoljak, was an excellent opportunity to discuss in practical terms where EU policy meets EU citizens. One clear example, which I'm sure made Dubrovnik's mayor very happy, was the €32 million investment for upgrading the city's airport, which was made possible thanks the European Investment Plan.

I would like to thank the citizens of Dubrovnik for their warmth both in terms of hospitality and their resilience to the high temperature in the room. Your passion, interest, and excellent questions made it all worthwhile, and Minister Vrdoljak's brilliant idea for us to lose our ties made it a bit easier to think…

A few other (tweeted) memorable moments:

Over the course of 1.5 days in Dubrovnik, I had the pleasure of meeting with Croatian President Grabar-Kitarović no less than five times: at our bilateral meeting, the Croatia Forum,official dinner, CESEC Summit, and when sharing a coincidental ice cream break…

Bilateral meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović (second left).

Meeting with citizens was also an opportunity to take stock of some of the ongoing political debates.

Signing the CESEC MoU with Croatian Minister Vrdoljak's, and Commissioner Arias Cañete.

Breakfast with Assistant Secretary of State, Viktoria Noland and US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein.

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