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EU sends 'strong signal' to Western Balkans, as coronavirus tests relations

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Participation of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, at the video conference of the EU and Western Balkans leaders
Participation of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, at the video conference of the EU and Western Balkans leaders   -   Copyright  EU/Etienne ANsotte/ EU
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The EU reaffirmed its commitment to Western Balkans nations on Wednesday. Brussels has pledged €3.3 billion to help battle the coronavirus pandemic in the region.

It comes amid fears that some states were aligning themselves with Russia and China. The EU wants to keep the Balkans en route for joining the EU.

"I think there is a lot of appreciation in all the capitals in the region for what the European Union is doing," said Andrej Plenković, Croatian Prime Minister who was chairing the meeting.

"These countries are in a way surrounded by the European Union. If we look at geography there is nowhere else they can go."

In the early stages of the outbreak Russia, China and Turkey were quicker than the EU to send help, and were celebrated by local politicians.

EU membership stalemate?

In recent months, there was also frustration over the progress of membership talks. The summit's statement notably omitted any reference to 'enlargement'.

However, the EU's enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi told Euronews there should be positive developments in the near future.

“For Serbia I would like to see more and more chapters opened, and hopefully still before the end of the year start closing chapters. We have one last standing chapter with Montenegro, I would want to open that... And of course, we have a major opportunity coming up after the Serbian elections, maybe to get a long-term solution in the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.”

EU accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia got the green light in March, and the Commissioner says they could start within a year, but for them and other aspiring nations, there is a long road to travel.