The European Union and the geopolitics of Covid19 vaccines in the Western Balkans

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Series Details Number 146
Publication Date April 2021
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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has given rise to geopolitical games linked to access to the COVID-19 vaccines. The first impression may be that Russia and China have made strides in this area, especially in the Western Balkans. Instead, the European Union (EU) is seen as having lost relative power in the geopolitics at play, caught up in the difficulties of ensuring the distribution of sufficient vaccines to its member states. However, the EU has not only been present in the Western Balkans during this crisis, but it has also been the biggest donor – something few seem to be aware of.

Given the limited supply of vaccines, the EU has been slow to tackle immediate needs, essentially concentrating on the long-term socio-economic consequences of the pandemic in the Western Balkans. However, the Western Balkan region is highly affected by the pandemic, with Covid19 cases and deaths on the rise. It is therefore still in much need for international assistance with short-term challenges.

EU support to the region has nevertheless reaffirmed some of the long-standing shortcomings facing the EU foreign policy: the EU’s slow reaction to emergencies at hand and the EU’s sub-optimal communication and information policy. With the distribution of vaccines to its member states on track, now is the moment for the EU to up its game and prioritise the delivery of much needed Covid19 vaccines in the Western Balkans, a region where the EU promise for enlargement still lingers.

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