The leader of EU hopeful Albania has hit out at Brussels over its "morally and politically unacceptable" COVID vaccine rollout.
Edi Rama, prime minister of the western Balkans country, accused the European Union of "only thinking of itself".
Brussels has signed deals for several COVID-19 vaccines and inoculations began across the bloc just after Christmas. But the picture is very different for poorer countries on the fringes of the EU, some of who are still without vaccines.
Albania began inoculations this week after an anonymous EU country had provided Tirana with 975 doses.
"If you see how the European Union has conceived this process, for the moment it has decided to think only of itself," said Rama.
"It has been left to the discretion of member states to build interactive processes for vaccines in bilateral ways with non-EU countries.”
Other countries neighbouring Albania have signed up to the COVAX scheme, which was set up by the European Commission and the World Health Organization to ensure poorer countries got access to a coronavirus vaccine.
But it's unclear when this initiative will begin delivering.
"COVAX will function one day, but we don’t know and no one knows when this will be possible," added Rama.
He said countries are taking an "everyone for themselves" attitude.
"This is what the European Union has done, and it is unfortunate," he continued. "I have said it since the first day, that it is not only morally and politically unacceptable, but it is also logically unjustified."
Albania has secured a contract to receive 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first 10,000 of which are set to arrive next week.
Rama said next week Albania will also give "a symbolic number of vaccines" to neighbouring Kosovo for frontline medical personnel.
“In this case, it is important to think not like the EU, but to think that we are not alone because Kosovo and Albania are one in joy and trouble,” Rama said.
Meanwhile, Romanian MEP Vlad Gheorghe said that while the EU is doing quite well in the process of securing and distributing vaccines for its own member states, more should be done to help EU hopefuls and neighbours.
“I am sure that we could get better solutions and we should think about expanding the area for which we are responsible because if the EU reacts right now in a time of crisis, this is the way that our relationship with Albania or Serbia is going to be defined for the next 10 or maybe 20 years, and by the way we act now," Gheorghe told Euronews.
In a statement, the European Commission said: "When it comes to vaccines, the EU has supported from the start a multilateral approach to ensure the provision of vaccines everywhere. This is why we are supporting the COVAX Facility, which is leading efforts to make COVID-19 vaccines a global public good.
"We have mobilised a very substantial package of €3.3 billion to support our Western Balkan partners address the immediate health emergency and support for first measures to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and we have adopted an Economic and Investment plan for the Western Balkans of up to €9 billion that will help spur the longer-term recovery of the region."