The EU should include all the Western Balkans countries, irrespective of the status of their accession talks, in its post-pandemic reconstruction plan, or else risk dire economic and geopolitical consequences for the entire region. However, the post-crisis support must be conditioned on measures that will minimize state capture.
In a policy brief titled “The Western Balkans in Times of the Global Pandemic”, BiEPAG experts from the region (The Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group) have outlined the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the Western Balkans, and put forth a number of policy recommendations that would help the region overcome this crisis and its consequences.
The coronavirus pandemic has made visible a number of structural weaknesses in the Western Balkans, from weak healthcare systems, to low trust in the government and weak democracy and state capture. The region is also expected to suffer the economic consequences of the global pandemic with a drop in exports, tourism, and remittances.
The policy brief encourages the EU to continue the integration process of Western Balkans countries by starting accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible.
It warns that the current crisis shouldn’t be used to excuse unchecked suspension of democracy and civil liberties. To address this, the EU needs to identify and monitor the restrictions that are permissible in states of emergency in the Western Balkans.
In the face of the economic and social consequences brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, governments should support small and medium enterprises, secure food supply for vulnerable communities, and consider a temporary universal basic income that would help citizens who have lost their means of income.
The pandemic has exposed the poor state of medical institutions, from the lack of adequate supplies and equipment, to overcrowding of hospitals, to shortages in medical personnel as a result of prolonged emigration from the region.
BiEPAG also warns that the environmental crisis risks being forgotten in the Western Balkan in the rush to attain a quick economic recovery. However, high levels of air pollution observed even as the pandemic has reduced car traffic drastically points to the urgent need to regulate the heavy industries and large factories.
BiEPAG is a cooperation initiative of the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) and Centre for the Southeast European Studies of the University of Graz (CSEES). It aim at promoting the Western Balkans’ integration in to the EU and consolidation of democracy in these countries.
Well-established researchers contribute to policy analysis by BiEPAG. The latest paper was authored by Florian Bieber, Tena Prelec, Marika Djolai, Donika Emini, Jovana Marović, Srdjan Majstorović, Vedran Džihić, Alida Vračić, with contributions by Nikos Tzifakis, Natasha Wunsch, Will Bartlett, Richard Grieveson and Mario Holzner.