Demonstrating solidarity, mobilising a substantial recovery package and involving the region in EU’s programmes, the EU confirmed its special responsibility to assist the Western Balkans partners in times of crises. The region’s future lies in the European Union and only together the European Union and the Western Balkans can succeed in fighting the coronavirus and finding the path of economic recovery. As the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: “This is a time for solidarity, and it is a priority for the EU to support the Western Balkans, as part of our European family, in facing the impact of the pandemic.”
The EU assistance to this end was stepped up over the last weeks. Here are few examples:
In July, the EU continued delivering medical equipment for hospitals and health centres across Albania. The medical equipment includes 15 mobile ventilators, 50 monitors of vital parameters, 25 defibrillators, 20 electrocardiograms with trolleys, 10 echographers and 2 digital mobile x-rays. Via public events and social media campaigns the EU has been promoting social distancing, the wearing of masks, personal hygiene as well as the importance of checking reliable sources as measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
Over the last weeks, the EU continued delivering medical equipment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including in the cities of Sarajevo, Doboj, Konjic, Livno, Bihac, Zvornik and so on. The EU overall support for the country in medical equipment is worth €7 million, consisting in – among others - 7500 test kits, 64 ventilators, 20 portable ultrasounds, 9 x-ray machines, 2000 oximeters and 1 million personal protective equipment pieces delivered to date. In parallel, the EU has continued supporting and engaging in media literacy initiatives for youth in the country organised by local fact checking communities, whose work has been of paramount importance in fighting disinformation during the pandemic outbreak.
In August, the EU delivered further 30 intensive care unit ventilators, 200 pulse oximeters, and 20 electrocardiograph machines with the 5th batch of its €5 million emergency assistance to fight COVID-19 pandemic in Kosovo. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 the EU has delivered to Kosovo 10 ambulance vehicles, 190 hospital beds, 6,000 testing kits, 150 infusion pumps, 127 patient monitors, 1.6 million different protective medical gloves, 127,000 respiratory masks, 60,000 disposable coveralls, 23,000 face shields, 3,000 protective goggles, and other medical equipment. In July, the EU signed the Macro-financial assistance agreement with Kosovo, worth up to €100 million to mitigate the severe socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus.
Over the last weeks, the EU has delivered to Montenegro 86 medical ventilators, more than 235,000 pieces of personal protective equipment as part of the €3 million programme implemented in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In July, the country also received 10.000 masks via the EU civil protection mechanism. Since the outbreak of the pandemic a total of 100 hospital medical ventilators, 10 X-ray devices and more than 400.000 pieces of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks, gloves, hats, protective clothing, aprons, glasses, shoe covers, etc. have been delivered so far to the country.
In July, the EU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with North Macedonia to pave the way for the disbursement of €80 million in macro-financial assistance to mitigate the severe negative socio-economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The country has continued receiving medical equipment including face masks.
In July, the EU financed the hiring of 200 qualified medical doctors, medical technicians and administrative staff who will support hospitals, clinics and laboratories across Serbia. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the EU promptly supported the country including by financing 15 cargo flights carrying over 721 tonnes of equipment needed to fight the coronavirus such as protective medical face masks, respirators and containers. The EU is supporting the most vulnerable groups including by allocating €100.000 in hygiene and essential foods packages for Roma settlements in Belgrade, Nis, Subotica, Valjevo. The EU has also engaged in the initiative “They are heroes” raising the profile of people who stood out by helping those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Background on EU support and next steps
The EU has supported the Western Balkans since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak by addressing the immediate health and resulting humanitarian needs of the pandemic and is and will continue helping with the social and economic recovery of the region. During the European Union-Western Balkans Zagreb summit (6 May 2020), the EU announced a package of over €3.3 billion to the benefit of the region. The package follows the “Team Europe” approach combining resources from the EU, its Member States, and financial institutions, in particular the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The EU swiftly mobilised a €38 million immediate support package to the Western Balkans health sector to procure medical equipment such as masks, ventilators, visors and testing kits and reallocated €389 million to build-up resilience of the national health systems and to cushion for the social and economic impact of the crisis, with special attention to the most vulnerable people. The EU proposed €750 million of Macro-Financial Assistance, in tandem with the International Monetary Fund, to support Western Balkan governments that requested help with balancing the payment crisis. The EU is providing €455 million to ensure survival in the short-term, and recovery in the medium-term of businesses in the private sector and through the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU is also providing €1.7 billion for additional loans for public sector investments, and further credit to enterprises, to help safeguard jobs for the many people working in SMEs in the region.
Beyond the current crisis, the European Union will continue to support the Western Balkans, in particular with the reforms needed on their EU path. The recovery will only work effectively if all the partners in the Western Balkans move forward and keep delivering on their commitments. The next EU long term budget (period 2021-2027) contains €12.5 billion that is allocated to the enlargement region with the aim to support the fulfilling of the accession criteria.