MEPs urge Commission to support Western Balkans in coronavirus fight

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks in the main square of the capitol in Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia, 21 March 2020. [Georgi Licovski/EPA/EFE]

Four MEPs have urged the European Commission to support the Western Balkans countries during the coronavirus pandemic by including them in the EU’s medical device export authorisation scheme, in a letter dated 20 March.

MEPs Lukas Mandl (Austria, EPP), Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Germany, Greens), Ilhan Kyuchyuk (Bulgaria, Renew Europe) and Andrey Kovachev (Bulgaria, EPP) called President Ursula von der Leyen to introduce effective measures to assist the Western Balkan countries’ fight against the virus.

The matter was also discussed at the European Council on 24 March.

The EU’s export authorisation scheme currently covers the 27 member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The six Balkan countries are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

Protective equipment exports outside the EU would be subject to an export authorisation for at least six weeks to protect domestic consumption, the Commission announced.

As reported by EURACTIV, following a joint procurement initiative by the Commission, member states have purchased personal protective equipment for fighting COVID-19, which is due to arrive in two weeks.

Protective equipment joint purchase ready in two weeks, Commission says

International suppliers will be ready to provide personal protective equipment for fighting COVID-19  within two weeks, following the European Commission joint procurement initiative, the EU executive announced on Tuesday (24 March).

Bulgaria is one of the 25 countries participating in the tender. A similar public procurement will also be done for respiratory ventilators and testing kits.

The four MEPs also called for the inclusion of the Western Balkans countries in future joint EU public procurement of emergency medical equipment.

“The EU has repeatedly put the process of integration of the Western Balkans on hold. Nevertheless, these countries have supported us for years in matters of migration and other areas. Now it is our turn to show solidarity”, the MEPs wrote.

Green light for Northern Macedonia and Albania

On Tuesday (24 March), the European Council gave the green light to opening the accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

EU moves to start membership talks with North Macedonia, Albania

The European Council is set to give the green light this week for starting accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, in a long-awaited move for the Western Balkans after the enlargement process was effectively put on hold last year.

The meeting was held in the form of a video conference because of the virus outbreak and the EU foreign ministers endorsed the proposal unanimously in a written procedure.

The decision sets out the conditions that the two countries must meet before the convening of so-called “intergovernmental conferences”, with which negotiations can formally begin.

Emphasis is also placed on the new methodology for conducting the negotiation process.

According to Kyuchyuk, who is the Parliament’s standing rapporteur on North Macedonia, the European Council has “finally succeeded to give an answer to the expectations of the Western Balkan countries and their citizens”.

The green light to start accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania shows that Europe can take decisions in times of crisis, the Bulgarian MEP said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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