EU pledges stimulus to Western Balkans ahead of summit

A summit meeting of EU member states and six Western Balkans countries will be held over videoconference today. The meeting—the

eu western balkans

Photo: EPA-EFE

A summit meeting of EU member states and six Western Balkans countries will be held over videoconference today.

The meeting—the first of its kind since a May 2018 summit in Sofia—comes after the European Commission (EC) announced a week ago that the bloc would provide a $3.6 billion stimulus package to address the immediate humanitarian effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Western Balkans. Today’s meeting is expected to see the EC begin to outline the broad parameters of a longer-term “Economic and Investment Plan” for the region.

The EU’s financial support package is intended not only to meet the immediate, short-term public health needs of the Western Balkans, but also to begin longer-term economic and institutional incorporation of these states into the bloc. This is most evident by the EU’s willingness to allow Western Balkans partners access to initiatives and instruments traditionally reserved for member states, such as joint procurement of medical equipment and fast-flowing “green lanes” to expedite the flow of essential goods across land borders.

The long-term impact of a successful implementation of the EU’s COVID-19 package could see the Western Balkans more financially integrated into the EU apparatus. The more Western Balkans states become dependent on EU funds, the more likely they will be forced to address persisting issues preventing greater European integration, namely rule of law concerns and ethnonationalism.

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