BELGRADE / BRUSSELS – Even though the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić said at a press conference dedicated to the declaration on national emergency on Sunday that “we cannot import medical equipment from EU countries from today”, the decision taken by the European Commission on 14 March only obliges member states to issue a an authorisation to export this type of products.
The Commission’s act (implementing regulation) stipulates that the relevant authorities of the Member States will issue authorisation for the six-week period for the export of the protective equipment listed in the Annex of the document – protective masks, glasses, suits, gloves and similar items.
“Exports continue to be possible but need to be authorized by Member States authorities”, European Commission source confirmed for the European Western Balkans.
Whether or not this equipment will be exported will therefore depend not on the decisions of Brussels but on the individual decisions of the twenty-seven Member States, depending on their supply of the equipment.
The European Commission act stipulates to countries, inter alia, that when deciding on export licenses, Member States should be guided by EU internal rules for crisis situations, but also by supporting World Health Organization activities.
“In order to remedy and prevent a critical situation, it is in the Union interest that the Commission takes an immediate action of a limited duration in order to ensure that exports of personal protective equipment are subject to an authorisation in order to ensure adequacy of supply in the Union in order to meet the vital demand”, the document states.
However, it is added that exports of certain types of products may, under special circumstances, be authorized to third countries, depending on the needs of the Member States. The decision on these types of exports remains with the Member States, the document is clear.
However, what one could take away from the speech of President Vučić is that a complete ban on the export of medical equipment at EU level was introduced.
“I wanted to jump out of my skin. This decision was made by the people who lectured us here that we should not buy Chinese goods. When they needed Serbian money, then they asked us to change the conditions for tenders so that European companies could get them. And when it is difficult, even Serbian money does not help, because we did not ask for the free equipment”, the President said, adding that he asked for help from China and its President, Xi Jinping.
According to the European Commission, it is looking at how to associate the Western Balkans to the initiatives the EU is taking and how to best offer support in mitigating the socio-economic impact, including by looking at a possibility of redirecting the IPA funding and of flexibility with state aid rules.