EU-WB leaders meeting eyes new phase of close cooperation

The summit runs online, instead taking place in Zagreb, due to corona pandemic

Photo: EU Charles Michel.

At 4:30pm sharp on Wednesday, was kicked off the EU-Western Balkans' leaders meeting at which EU heads of state and government and their counterparts of the Western Balkans will discuss how effectively to tackle common challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic, but also to reaffirm the European perspective of the region. The summit was initially foreseen to take place in Zagreb, but it was shifted online due to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, is chairing the meeting and at this videoconference summit he is representing the EU together with EC President Ursula von der Leyen.

Andrej Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia, which currently holds the presidency of the Council, Josep Borrell, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, the European investment Bank and the Regional Cooperation Council are also taking part.

The EU is the most important partner of the Western Balkans region and the video conference is expected to underline the significance of the unique EU-Western Balkans relations.

The leaders will exchange views on the new phase of close cooperation to tackle the significant socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis, the importance of regional cooperation, as well as how to best manage security challenges. 

They will also reaffirm the commitment of the Western Balkans partners to uphold European values and principles.

A week ago the Commission announced over €3.3bn of EU financial support mobilised jointly with the EIB to the benefit of the Western Balkans' citizens. This aid aims to address the immediate health and resulting humanitarian needs of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as help with the social and economic recovery.

The EU is providing €455m to ensure survival in the short-term, and recovery in the medium-term of businesses in the private sector. This funding  will be channelled through up to 70 local banks in the region to help small and medium enterprises in getting more flexible terms for repayments, or easier access to new loans, and to enable entrepreneurs to cope with the immediate effects of the crisis and thrive afterwards. Through the EIB, the EU is also providing €1.7 billion for additional loans for public sector investments, and further credit to enterprises, to help safeguard jobs for the many people working in SMEs in the region.

The EU executive will present later this year the broad parameters of longer-term support that will in the form of an Economic and Investment Plan for the region.

The previous EU-Western Balkans summit took place on 17 May 2018 in Sofia. Then, EU leaders agreed on the Sofia declaration, with which the Western Balkans partners have aligned themselves. They also adopted the Sofia priority agenda, as an annex to the declaration and outlined new measures for enhanced cooperation with the region.



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