Zagreb Declaration in shadow of COVID-19: WB has an EU perspective, EU assistance deserves public acknowledgement

Family Photo at the Sofia Summit; Photo: Bulgarian EU Presidency / Flickr

BRUSSELS – EU once again reaffirmed its unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, calling for unity and solidarity at the time of COVID-19, reads the draft declaration of the EU-Western Balkans Zagreb Summit, seen by European Western Balkans.

The declaration stresses all forms of assistance and cooperation provided by the EU to the Western Balkans during the pandemic, including the mobilisation of 3.3 billion Euros, 750 million macro-financial assistance, as well as the joint procurement and the urestricted trade-flow of protective personal equipment.

“The fact that this support and cooperation goes far beyond what any other partner has provided to the region deserves public acknowledgement”, the draft declaration reads, also recognising the support Western Balkans has provided to its immediate neighbours and EU Member States.

The declaration tackles European values and principles as well, welcoming the pledge of the Western Balkan partners to uphold them and reminding that the increased EU assistance will be linked to tangible reforms in the areas of the rule of law and socio-economic reforms.

“The Western Balkan leaders should ensure that fundamental values, democratic principles and the rule of law are strictly upheld and implemented, including while special and extraordinary measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic are in place”, the draft reads.

The EU and the Western Balkans are expected to intensify their cooperation in addressing disinformation and other hybrid activities of third-state actors seeking to undermine the European perspective of the region.

The EU also fully supports the pledge of the Western Balkans to inclusive regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations, with the particular emphasis on bilateral agreements reached between North Macedonia and Greece, as well as Bulgaria. The appointment of EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues is also welcomed.

“Once we exit the immediate measures to contain COVID-19 pandemic, a new phase of close cooperation to tackle the significant socio-economic impact of the crisis will follow”, the draft declaration reads. It invites the European Commission to come forward with the announced robust economic and investment plan.

Security challenges, including the fight against terrorism and extremism, as well as organised crime and corruption, are stressed as well. Migration challenges are particularly emphasised.

“The remaining Frontex status agreements should be concluded without delay. The EU will continue to support the improvement of reception capacities in the Western Balkans”, the declaration reads.

The EU also expects further deepening of foreign and security policy cooperation, as well as the reinvegoration of the political dialogue with the region, the draft declaration concludes.