While the European Union has become
the epicentre of the global Covid-19 crisis, the countries of the Western Balkans – Albania,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – have so far
remained remarkably lightly affected. Even neighbouring Turkey, although having a high
number of confirmed cases, has so far counted far fewer deaths than many West European countries. This
is in spite of the fact that
all countries of Southeast Europe (SEE) have large diasporas in the EU, with
large numbers of
cross-border family links and movements.
It is evident that all seven states
have taken substantial and early measures to curb infections, in some cases
even before the most affected EU member states. However, interpretation of the
data is going to require more time to pass. Caution is certainly due with
regard to the overall low infection rates, which are influenced by low testing.
The very low death rates in some Western Balkan countries could also be due to
misclassifications in statistical presentation.
Notwithstanding these cautions and
despite the variations across the region, the seven SEE countries may yet prove
to have been relatively successful in minimizing the direct medical incidence
The cases of discontent related in
particular to the restrictions imposed on the Orthodox Easter ceremonies, while
mistrust towards governments over cases of alleged corruption (e.g. Bosnia and
Herzegovina), as well as in the manner of reporting cases of Covid-19 (e.g.
Turkey) or ‘personalised’ lockdown measures (e.g. Montenegro) also arose.
In the ‘Zagreb Declaration’ of their
virtual summit of 6 May 2020, the EU reiterated its strong solidarity with its
Western Balkan partners in the context of the Covid-19 crisis and the intention
to actively support their efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak and its
impacts on societies and economies. As outlined in the Commission Communication
of 29 April the EU has mobilised a package of over EUR 3.3 billion to support
to the Western Balkans in tackling Covid-19 and the post-pandemic recovery.
In the past few weeks, EU officials have openly complained about the fact that this support and cooperation goes far beyond what any other partner has provided to the region and deserves public acknowledgement. At the same time, the Zagreb Declaration recognises the valuable support the Western Balkans have given during the pandemic to their immediate neighbours and towards the EU. This, indeed, reflects the solidarity and mutual support the EU is built on. In this Bulletin we present comparative summaries of the situation in each of the SEE countries. These Bulletins will be continued fortnightly, each organised around a central theme. In this first edition, we take stock of the domestic medical situation and the social response to the coronavirus outbreak. Read the full bulletin here.
This publication is prepared within the framework of the CEPS-led ‘3dCFTAs’ project, enabled by financial support from Sweden.