- November 12, 2020
On November 12, Aspen Germany concluded its series of expert workshops on the effects of the pandemic in the region with a discussion on “Regional Cooperation and the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Western Balkans”. The event gathered a select group of experts and decision-makers from the countries of the Western Balkans, the European Union as well as from international and regional organizations. Main topics of discussion were the impact of the pandemic on regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, the role of regional initiatives in mitigating the economic repercussions, and the future of regional cooperation in the aftermath of the crisis.
Experts reported that the pandemic – similar to previous natural disasters – resulted in increased solidarity within the region and accelerated joint initiatives, for instance the opening of Green Lanes at border crossings or the joint advocacy for EU assistance and inclusion in the EU’s procurement efforts of medical equipment. Furthermore, regional initiatives in different sectors increased their efforts to coordinate and streamline activities in the wake of the pandemic, which is to be maintained even after the crisis. Another issue discussed was the Common Regional Market in the Western Balkans, agreed upon at the Sofia Summit of the Berlin Process on November 10, its various dimensions as well as its potential to support economic recovery after the crisis. Participants called for a fast and full implementation for the initiative to yield fruits, which in turn depends on strong political commitment both within the region and on the EU’s side. At the same time, several experts called for a more realistic assessment of the economic growth potential of increased regional cooperation and stressed the importance of a strategic, targeted, and common approach in FDI attraction and the overall development of the economies in the region. Also, the need for more harmonization and coordination of policies within the region was underlined. Participants also addressed the potential of bilateral disputes to disrupt progress in regional cooperation and suggested for instance to introduce dispute settlement mechanisms.
The expert workshop series on “The COVID-19 Pandemic in the Western Balkans: Consequences and Policy Approaches” is part of Aspen’s Regional Dialog on the Western Balkans, which is kindly supported by the Federal Foreign Office. Previous expert discussions of the series have dealt with the political effects of the crisis, the impact on the influence of international actors, as well as economic and social repercussions.