EU offers more aid membership to Balkans

European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a media conference after an EU-Western Balkans videoconference summit at the EU Council building in Brussels, Belgium May 6, 2020.Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The European Union’s 27 leaders on Wednesday gave their “unequivocal support” for the six Balkan countries to eventually become members of the bloc and offered them more financial support as Brussels seeks to check Chinese largesse. 

The EU says it has not been given enough credit for the 3.3 billion euros ($3.6 billion) it is providing, an amount officials said outweighs medical supplies Beijing and Moscow sent to Serbia and Bosnia in the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The summit, planned for the Croatian capital Zagreb 20 years after the first ever EU-Balkan gathering, took place by video, linking the heads of Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and North Macedonia with the 27 EU leaders.

Still scarred by 1990s wars, all six countries aspire to join the EU, though the response to the COVID-19 disease dominated discussions on Wednesday. 

“The EU once again reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans,” the leaders of EU institutions and EU governments said in a final declaration, a reference to future membership once reforms are undertaken.

The leaders promised a “robust economic and investment plan” for the Balkans to help recover from the coronavirus crisis on top of the 3.3 billion euros.

China and Russia flew doctors and medical supplies to Bosnia and Serbia in March to help halt spreading of the coronavirus at a time when the EU’s initial response was slow. 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who at the time publicly thanked President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people, said on Wednesday in a statement that he was grateful for EU help.

Asked by reporters after the summit if Balkan leaders should show more praise for the European Union, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said: “their objective is the European Union and this summit is helping them to go in the right direction.”

The final summit declaration also demanded that Balkan countries follow EU foreign policy objectives, a veiled reference to concerns about countries aligning themselves too closely to Russia and China, which the EU says does not offer the same path towards becoming prosperous democracies. 

“The EU reiterates its calls on all partners to progress towards full alignment with EU foreign policy position”.