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EU Plans New Package To Help Balkans Through Coronavirus Crisis

The package is expected to be announced formally in May.

BRUSSELS -- The European Union is discussing a new aid package for the Western Balkans to help the region cope with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, according to a document seen by RFE/RL.

The document, a first draft of a declaration expected to be adopted after a videoconference of EU and Balkan leaders scheduled for May 6, states that the bloc has “mobilised very swiftly a package of over EUR x.x billion to the benefit” of the region.

EU officials familiar with the matter told RFE/RL that the amount of the package isn’t known as all contributions haven’t been made yet.

The draft states that the package “includes immediate support for the health sector, in particular through delivering essential supplies to save lives and significant support for the social and economic recovery needs” of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

The aid would come on top of the 38 million euros ($41 million) pledged by Brussels in March in immediate support for the six EU hopefuls to tackle the health emergency caused by the coronavirus. The money would also add to a 750-million-euro ($812 million) package announced last week of macro-financial assistance to the Balkans.

The document also calls on the European Commission to “come forward (in the autumn) with a robust economic and investment plan for the region aiming to restart the economies while improving the competitiveness of their economies, to better connect them within the region and with the EU.”

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, there was criticism that the EU had been slow to help the Balkans, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic slamming the bloc for "abandoning his country” and praising China for its assistance during the crisis.

Restrictions of exports of medical equipment from the EU to the region, which have since been lifted, were also criticized.

The four-page EU draft declaration reads that the bloc’s “support and cooperation goes far beyond what any other partner has provided to the region.”

But it cautioned that “increased assistance will be linked to tangible progress in the rule of law and in socioeconomic reforms, as well as on the Western Balkans partners’ adherence to EU values, rules, and standards.”

The draft declaration also reaffirms the EU’s “unequivocal support for the European perspective” of the Balkans countries, which in turn “reiterate their commitment to the European perspective as their firm strategic choice.”

The videoconference next week will replace an EU-Western Balkans summit that had been scheduled to be held in Zagreb on May 6-7.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.