The European Union has pledged 500 million euros to improve energy infrastructure in the Western Balkans, North Macedonia commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday during the first leg of a tour of the region.
The announcement comes as rising energy prices triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine and the onset of winter send shock waves through European economies already struggling with rising inflation.
According to von der Leyen, the aid begins with immediate budget support of €80 million to North Macedonia to “help cope with the impact of high energy prices”.
“But of course others will come. For example, there are 500 million euros in subsidies for the whole region to invest in energy connections, energy efficiency and of course renewable energy,” von der said. Leyen, emphasizing the importance of being independent of Russian fossil fuels.
Part of the support is through the joint purchase of gas on the world market.
“The energy and economic crisis caused by the war in Ukraine has united Europe. Only together can we face the lack of energy and food,” said Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovacevski.
The news is likely to bring welcome relief to many Western Balkan countries, including North Macedonia, where domestic electricity production only covers two-thirds of the country’s annual needs.
Most of the Western Balkan countries, including North Macedonia, are in various stages of negotiations on possible EU membership, with some countries having officially applied for membership for more than a decade.
EU officials have repeatedly said that the Western Balkan countries are part of the European family despite the long accession process.
Experts have warned that the stalled integration process has caused growing euroscepticism, leaving room for Russian influence to grow in the region.
Wednesday’s visit marked von der Leyen’s second trip to Skopje this year. In July, she spoke in the Macedonian Parliament on the eve of the official opening of negotiations between North Macedonia and the EU.
The head of the European Commission is due to visit Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia in the coming days.