Europe is in the middle of a battle against an invisible enemy transcending national borders. Following the initial shock and individual reactions across different countries to the coronavirus outbreak, the European Union is pulling together its political force and economic strength to confront the spreading pandemic.
Despite the crisis, the EU’s enlargement continues with our ever greater commitment demonstrated by the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia earlier in March. This week, North Macedonia joined its partners and Allies and became the 30th Member of NATO. Montenegro, already anchored in the Alliance, gains another regional partner in this collective security organization. The Western Balkans as a whole are more firmly linked to the West.
The European Union stands firmly by Montenegro and its citizens. We in the EU continue to show our solidarity alongside responsible political decision-making and engaged communication with out partners in Podgorica. How are we supporting the people in Montenegro? The EU’s aid will provide €3 million for the healthcare sector and €50 million to boost the health, economy and business sectors over a longer period of time. The EU has already distributed hundreds of care packages to vulnerable families, procured 12 ambulances and as of next year it will be supporting the construction of a new hospital wing in Podgorica and the upgrade of 12 microbiological laboratories in Montenegro.
This is an important part of a greater relief effort for the region. Last month we in the European Parliament approved more available resources to the countries in the Western Balkans through the EU Solidarity Fund. The big news in the coronavirus crisis is that the six countries of the Western Balkans are going to benefit from the EU’s support package of €410 million in bilateral financial assistance. This entails €38 million in immediate funding for medical and protection supplies and €374 million in further assistance to the people of the region to help them recover socially and economically once the quarantine stops. Europe’s key approach is flexibility; we stand ready to listen to our Montenegrin partners so we can target our assistance in these unprecedented times.
In late February, I had the honour to co-chair the first EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Committee (SAPC) under the EP’s new mandate. Our working session in Podgorica a few weeks ago concluded with the adoption of a joint political statement by European and Montenegrin parliamentarians. There is a lot of work ahead on Montenegro’s path towards the European Union membership. I want to assure our political counterparts but also representatives of media, civil society organisations and people working on rule of law projects in Montenegro that we shall be engaged in helpful ways during the coming months and as soon as the situation allows us to do so, we will start planning our next SAPC meeting in Strasbourg.
Montenegrins can count on the European Union, because our cooperation has a solid basis dating to the beginning of Montenegro’s modern statehood. Our political discussions can be challenging at times but their frankness and openness is a standing proof of the fact that a friend in need is a friend indeed.