EU mobilises support for Western Balkans in fight against Covid-19
Brussels, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- The Council of the European Union gave the green light on Monday to a 37 billion euro budget to mobilise investments during the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision was in line with a proposal by the European Commission and was made after approval was given in the European Parliament.
The Council adopted two legislative acts to release funding from the EU budget for tackling the Covid-19 crisis.
One of the acts amended the rules of the structural and investment funds and the other extended the scope of the EU solidarity fund, the institution said in a statement.
The Council gave approval for the 27 member states to access the cohesion fund to strengthen healthcare systems, as well as support small and medium-sized enterprises, short-term working schemes, and community-based services.
Around eight billion euros of the total amount will come from unspent pre-financing in 2019 under the structural funds, which means countries can spend unused money to fight the pandemic instead of returning it to the EU budget.
Another 29 billion euros will be disbursed early from allocations which would have been due later this year.
Member states will also have more flexibility to redirect resources between cohesion policy programmes to make sure they are sent where they are most needed, according to the Council.
The Council also amended the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund to include public health emergencies as well as natural disasters.
Both legislative acts will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 31 March and will enter into force on 1 April.
The European Commission announced Monday up to 38 million euros in immediate support for the Western Balkans to tackle the health emergency.
It said in a statement that it had also reallocated 374 million euros to help the socio-economic recovery of the region.
The EC will also support the supply of medical and protective equipment, such as ventilators, laboratory tests, masks, goggles, gloves and suits, after requests from countries in the region.
The EU will also help Albania and North Macedonia cover the immediate costs of their public health care systems with up to four million euros each and Bosnia and Herzegovina with seven million euros.
Montenegro will receive up to three million euros, Kosovo up to five million euros and up to 15 million euros will go to Serbia.
To help mitigate the socio-economic impact of the coronavirus, the EU said it will also redirect funds from the instrument for pre-accession assistance fund to help recovery in the region.
This will include support to the private sector, increasing social protection, with a specific attention to vulnerable groups, and strengthening resilience in the public health sector.
The EC said Monday that an economic solution to the coronavirus crisis in the EU must have consensus from all member states and advocated the forthcoming multi-annual budget as key for recovery.
Eric Mamer, chief spokesperson of the EU executive, said at a daily press briefing from Brussels: “All options are on the table. We need options that are fast, effective and based on consensus among all players and, in particular, the member states.
“This is the key to having a response that is up to the challenge.”