- November 11, 2020
On November 11, the third issue of Aspen Germany’s digital expert workshop series on “The COVID-19 Pandemic in the Western Balkans: Consequences and Policy Approaches” took place. The topic of the workshop was “Economic and Social Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Western Balkans: How to Respond?”. Regional and international experts as well as decision-makers from the Western Balkans, the European Union, and international organizations were gathered to discuss the measures taken by the governments of the Western Balkans to fight the pandemic and how to prioritize further actions. The workshop also evaluated which long-term economic and social transformations are to be anticipated in the wake of the crisis and to what extent the pandemic could offer windows of opportunity for the region.
Participants agreed that the region largely lacks economic resilience and is not well prepared to weather the pandemic and its consequences. Pre-existing structural weaknesses are and will be further aggravated by the crisis, such as weak health sectors, high unemployment, poverty, a large informal labor market, and high public debt. Only Serbia seems to be an exception with a less bleak economic outlook. Furthermore, the politicization of the crisis in some countries of the region was mentioned as a factor hampering an adequate reaction to the crisis. In terms of prioritizing government actions, participants mentioned the protection of jobs and support to businesses affected by the lockdown measures as well as protection of vulnerable sections of the population. As potentially promising effects of the crisis, experts mentioned the push for digitalization, the opportunity to attract more foreign direct investment based on potential near-shoring of production and services by EU businesses, as well as a potential momentum for restructuring the economy. However, further convergence with the EU remains a challenge.
The Expert Workshop Series was organized in the framework of Aspen’s Regional Dialog on the Western Balkans, kindly supported by the Federal Foreign Office. The first and second workshop of the series dealt with the political effects of the crisis and the impact on the influence of international actors in the region, respectively. The focus of the fourth and last issue lies on regional cooperation and COVID-19 in the Western Balkans.