In contrast to Europe’s North-West, the green parties and movements in South-East Europe tend to achieve weaker election results than their counterparts. It seems to be more difficult to mobilise voters in South-East Europe around environmental issues. Nevertheless, awareness for climate matters is on the rise.

In 2020, the countries of the Western Balkans signed the Declaration on the Green Agenda at the summit in Sofia, Bulgaria. With this, they committed themselves to completely phase out coal by 2050 as part of the European Green Deal to become climate-neutral by then.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock – who is a member of the country’s Green Party – also called on the group of countries in the Western Balkans to cooperate more on energy security and the switch to renewable energies. Russia is using energy as a weapon, she said. “Getting this green transition on track is in our common interest because we all benefit from clean and secure energy,” she said in her opening speech at the Western Balkans Conference in Berlin on October 21.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Growing environmental awareness but lack of political will

As an active member of the Energy Community, which brings the EU and many of its neighbours in Balkans and Black Sea regions together, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) committed itself to the reform of the energy sector and the harmonisation of its policies with EU members. But it has not done much in this regard so far as only three percent of its produced energy comes from renewable sources compared to 60 percent of energy coming from coal last year. BiH is hence being criticised by the Energy Community, because decarbonisation is one of the conditions for EU integration.

With only one document outlining the strategic framework of energy transition, the key problem is the lack of political will. BiH’s green parties and other parties nominally focus on environmental issues, but not enough to successfully differentiate themselves from other parties.

Nevertheless, environmental awareness is growing and the citizens are increasingly engaging in the fight for environmental protection at a local level. The Green Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was only founded in March, won one mandate in the Assembly of the Republika Srpska (RS).

North Macedonia: “Sign against the mine of death”

Out of 60 or so registered political parties, North Macedonia only has one declared green party – the Democratic Renewal of Macedonia, short: DOM – which has one seat in the Assembly. In spite of that, the country witnessed a number of environmental actions and protests in recent years.

One of the most prominent cases was the protest against the opening of the gold and copper mine “Ilovica-Shtuka”. In mid-August this year, activists started collecting signatures on petitions against the opening of the mine under the slogan “Sign against the mine of death”.

In 2014, two concessions were granted to the Canadian corporation Euromax Resources. After years of environmental protests, the new government cancelled one of the concessions and unilaterally terminated the contract in December 2019, saying that the company did not provide the necessary documentation. The court decided in favour of Euromax Resources against the government’s decision in March 2023. In June 2023, the government decided to merge two concessions for the mine into one. According to the Ministry of Economy, the court rulings may result in new lawsuits and proceedings in front of international courts, which could seriously damage the budget. However, the government withdrew from the decision to merge two concessions into one after all 20 days later.

On a local level, an independent list of activists and NGOs for the protection of the environment and human and animal rights appeared under the name “Green Humane City” (ZHG) and won two seats in Skopje’s City Council in 2021. In the past two years, ZHG has provided more funds for the processing of plastic waste, for mapping air pollution, for composting organic waste as well as the welfare of stray animals among other things.

Europe’s last wild river: The Wild River National Park in Albania

Earlier this year, in March 2023, the Albanian Vjosa River was declared the first Wild River National Park in Europe after a decade-long campaign. The campaign to protect it was broadly supported by civil society and the private sector as well as Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, an outspoken advocate for environmental issues.

There are further campaigns to protect other Albanian natural habitats such as the Narta Lagoon and the Karavasta Lagoon. Those projects are largely supported by foreign partner organisations as well as embassies such as the Delegation of the European Union. The country’s government also declared environmental protection a national priority.

Also worth mentioning is the “Plant a tree” campaign of the Municipality of Tirana, the Albanian capital. The city council announced that it planted about one million new trees as part of the Orbital Forest initiative around the capital.

‘Green policies have taken a back seat’ in Bulgaria, warns the Green Movement

In an interview on November 21, Bulgarian Green Movement co-leaders Daniela Bozhinova and Toma Belev said that in the name of bigger goals for Bulgaria such as joining the Euro area and Schengen, green policies have taken a back seat. The Green Movement is part of the Democratic Bulgaria coalition and the larger power-sharing coalition Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria, and has four seats in parliament. Bozhinova and Belev noted that their party is unequally represented in the group and requested a co-leading position within Democratic Bulgaria in order to bring green policies back to the forefront. 

The Green Movement is part of the European Green Party and plans to run in the European parliamentary elections in 2024, aiming to have one MEP elected. In the current parliament, the party was successful in preventing the plundering of forests by rejecting a bill that would have allowed a large amount of timber to be taken out of state communal forests.

The Green Movement party came to prominence during the short eight-month government of Kiril Petkov (December 13, 2021 – August 2, 2022), when their co-leader Borislav Sandov was Minister of the Environment. During this time, the government enforced strict environmental legislation, penalised polluters and designated new protected areas.

Bulgaria’s prominent environmental movement Ecoglasnost played a crucial role in the fall of the communist regime in the country. A rally by the movement on November 3, 1989, in Sofia, became the first demonstration against the totalitarian rule of Todor Zhivkov. Activists were against the construction of hydroelectric power generation projects on the rivers Rila and Mesta and voiced demands for public reforms. The communist party ousted Zhivkov on November 10, 1989. 

Romania investing in recycling

In neighbouring Romania, one of the most recent initiatives at the government level is the recycling project deposit-return system (SGR). Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu said it will be the second largest in Europe, after Germany, in terms of the number of packaging processed, starting as of November 30.

“The establishment of the RetuRo collection centres will create more than 600 jobs by the end of next year and will stimulate similar investments in transport and recycling both horizontally and vertically,” said Ciolacu. RetuRO Sistem Garantie Returnare SA is a “not-for-profit” company, meaning that any earnings made from the collection of beverage packaging will be reinvested exclusively in the development of the waste-return-system.

While there are no environmental political parties in power in Romania, there are numerous organisations promoting a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. Among the around ten parties that are registered to follow a “green doctrine“, the Green Party, which is a member of the European Greens, is enjoying popularity at the national level.

We Can: Croatia’s rising Green movement

In Croatia, which is an EU member since 2013, the green coalition under the political platform “Možemo!” (We Can!) won 116,000 votes and thus seven seats in parliament in the last parliamentary elections in 2020. In comparison, just a year earlier in the 2019 EU elections, the same platform received less than 20,000 votes. In other words, only 1.8 percent of voters had cast their ballot for them. In the local elections in May 2021, one of the leaders of the “Možemo!” platform, Tomislav Tomašević, was elected mayor of Zagreb. A new test for him and his platform will be the upcoming parliamentary and European elections, which will take place next year.

This article has been updated to correct spelling.

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