Europe is facing an unprecedented public health emergency, but even in these difficult times the European Union is here for our Western Balkan partners – now, in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, but also in its aftermath.

Yesterday an agreement between the European Union, UNDP and the government of Montenegro was signed in response to Montenegro’s request for immediate support in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. This agreement will provide for the disbursement of €3 million EU funds to alleviate the immediate needs of Montenegro’s health system by supporting the supply of medical devices and personal equipment, including among others things 50,000 surgical masks and 35,000 masks for personal use, 80,000 gloves, 100 medical ventilators, 10 digital x-ray machines and 50,000 other protective gear items such as laboratory kits, goggles, gowns, and safety suits.

Montenegro, along with the rest of our Western Balkan partners, is also included in EU initiatives to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, like the joint procurement schemes of protective personal and intensive care equipment, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s project for enhancing capacities to survey and control communicable diseases, public health emergency preparedness capabilities and microbiology laboratory systems. This immediate support comes in addition to the assistance the EU has already provided to the health sector in Montenegro which totals €4 million. Further assistance of €8.4 million is planned for the health system starting in 2021. All this EU assistance is the joint contribution of all EU Member States and an expression of European citizens’ solidarity. In addition, a large number of Montenegrin and EU citizens were able to return to their respective countries thanks to the unprecedented efforts of and close cooperation between a number of EU Member States, the Montenegrin authorities and the EU Delegation over the last weeks.

Our support will not stop here. To help mitigate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus, the EU will help the recovery of our Western Balkan partners in the short and medium term. This will include support to the private sector, increasing social protection, with specific attention to vulnerable groups, and strengthening resilience in the public health sector. For this purpose, €50 million will be mobilised for Montenegro. The EU is also working closely with relevant financial institutions to provide a coordinated response to support the real economy, including SMEs, and to support liquidity, also of the banking sector. In addition, the Union is working with relevant regional bodies to address issues affecting the supply and the facilitation of movement of goods by supporting the Western Balkans in expanding the green lanes within the region.

Another important sign of the European Union’s commitment towards the Western Balkans and its ability to deliver on its promises is the decision to open accession negotiations with Republic of North Macedonia and Republic of Albania. By taking this important decision in the midst of the crisis, the European Union demonstrated its ability to take geopolitical decisions even in such trying times and to look to the future: a common future built on common values.

We will continue to stand with Montenegro in good times, as well as in the face of adversity. We are all in this together and must look out for each other. This is what Europe is about.