High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said that the coronavirus pandemic and its global consequences dominated the headlines over the previous week, overshadowing the European Union’s decision to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.  

By making this important decision in such trying times, the EU moved forward on a truly important policy matter and sent an important signal and clear message to the Western Balkans: the European Union is not complete without the Western Balkans. The EU proved to be united on one of its priority policies and did so while addressing a global crisis”, said Borrell.

The EU HR underlined that with the start of the accession negotiations, a “lot of work now lies ahead of us and the opening of accession talks was just a first step of an intense process”.

Profound social, political and economic reforms need to happen before the step to full membership. These transformations naturally take time and require efforts, but what is important is that the ‘beam of light’ for two additional countries should also encourage the rest of the region to do what is needed and follow the path of reforms. For the benefit of the Western Balkans’ citizens”, said Borrell.

In times like these, when we are all fighting an unseen crisis and its consequences, we have to demonstrate what European and global solidarity really means”, he noted, and underlined that the EU “is not forgetting the people in the Western Balkans”.

The EU announced this week a package of bilateral financial assistance to all six partners in the region. We will provide up to EUR 38 million of immediate assistance to deal with the COVID-19 related emergency. This money buys respirators, masks and other medical equipment, it pays for flights bringing aid, and covers immediate needs of people”, said Borrell. “In addition, the EU decided to support the region by reallocating EUR 374 million for the social and economic recovery of the region, once the emergency is over. This means saving jobs, businesses, social benefits, it means allowing people to continue with their lives once we overcome this pandemic”, he explained.

Borrell noted that the EU had already approved EUR seven million worth of immediate support to the health sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and EUR 74 million for the social and economic recovery. “Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have also been able to return home from Morocco with an EU repatriation flight”, the EU HR reminded.

The Western Balkans can count on the solidarity of the EU. And not only in times of crisis. The EU is the main donor, investor and trade partner of the Western Balkans. Since 2014, the EU granted over one billion euro in support to the people of the Western Balkans. These are important facts that demonstrate the EU’s involvement in the region and its efforts to combat the virus inside the EU and abroad, including in the Western Balkans”, concluded Borrell.

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