Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi will be travelling to the Western Balkans next week as the first COVID-19 vaccines, shared and funded by the European Union, arrive to the region.
As announced by the European Commission and Austria on 20 April, in total 651,000 BioNTech/Pfizer doses will be delivered to the region in weekly instalments from the beginning of May to August. These vaccines will help to accelerate the vaccination campaigns, to ensure all frontline medical workers and some of the most vulnerable groups are inoculated.
Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi said: “I am travelling to the Western Balkans to pass a clear message: We care! We care about our partners, and we care about their health care workers and the most vulnerable. The delivery of the vaccines confirms our continuous commitment to provide support, as we have been doing since the outbreak of the pandemic. Stronger together!”
The vaccines are funded from the €70 million package adopted by the Commission in December 2020 to help cover the cost of vaccines, secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements for the Western Balkan partners. Austria has facilitated the sharing of these EU funded vaccines through legal arrangements with the producer and each Western Balkan partner. The overall distribution between countries is based on the epidemiological needs. These vaccines come on top of those provided by COVAX, where the EU is one of the top contributors with close to €2.5 billion from Team Europe (EU and its Member States).
Commissioner Várhelyi will start his visit to the region on Monday afternoon in Serbia, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia on Tuesday, and subsequently Albania and Kosovo on Wednesday. While in the region, he will discuss with the authorities the response to the pandemic as well as the EU’s support in this context.
The EU has acted decisively from the start of the crisis, mobilising a very substantial package of €3.3 billion to help the region address the immediate health crisis, mitigate the socio-economic impact and to ensure long-term recovery.
Through this package, vital equipment such as masks, ventilators, ambulance vehicles, testing kits, and freezers have been delivered for our Western Balkan partners. Solid measures have been facilitated to mitigate the socioeconomic crisis. The package will now also boost vaccination campaigns. This is a clear expression of European solidarity with our Western Balkans partners, whose future clearly lies in the EU.
More recently in October, the Commission put on the table an Economic and Investment Plan that could mobilise up to €28 billion in grants, guarantees and preferential loans to spur the long term recovery of the Western Balkans and convergence with the EU.