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Rejecting Criticism, Commissioner Says EU Was 'Very Quick' In Helping Neighbors Fight Coronavirus

Oliver Varhelyi, the EU commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement

The EU commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi, has rejected accusations that the bloc has been too slow in providing assistance to its Balkan neighbors and countries of its Eastern Partnership program in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with RFE/RL on April 2, Varhelyi also said he wasn’t worried that China and Russia could capitalize politically on the EU response to the crisis.

“I think that we have been very quick in reacting once we have been able to start to fight the crisis within the EU. We immediately came out with help for the entire region. This is not a race that we are running; this is about helping,” he said.

In the Balkans, the EU on March 30 announced up to 38 million euros ($41.1 million) in immediate support for EU hopefuls Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia to tackle the health emergency caused by coronavirus.

A first batch of ventilators arrived in Bosnia this week. The EU is also sending equipment to Serbia and is providing Kosovo with ambulances.

The EU also pledged 140 million euro ($154 million) for the most immediate needs in its eastern partners Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, and Varhelyi expressed confidence that medical equipment will arrive there “very soon.”

Recently, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic slammed the EU for "abandoning his country” and praised China for its assistance during the crisis, but Varhelyi said that the Serbian leader “immediately made it clear that we are the ones who are helping more.”

“We have been providing 7.5 million euros [$8.1 million] for Serbia, whereas China has been providing 5 million euros [$5.4 million] of help,” the commissioner said, insisting that the EU “continues to be the most important partner in the region.”

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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.