BRUSSELS, Belgium / BELGRADE, Serbia

EU and Western Balkans leaders gathered online on Wednesday to discuss the region’s future and the fight against coronavirus.

The EU-Western Balkans Summit was supposed to take place in Zagreb, Croatia. However, it was replaced by a videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 27 EU heads of states and governments, top officials and leaders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo will exchange views on the “European perspective of Western Balkans.”

The wording is particularly important because the EU avoids the expression of enlargement due to various political disagreements and national interests across the bloc.

However, the agreement on opening accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia is undoubtedly the biggest achievement of the Croatian presidency after the deadlock at EU leaders’ summit in October.

EU leaders will also encourage the Balkan countries to continue with their reform agenda following the European path.

The fight against COVID-19 will be the main topic of discussion at the virtual summit. The EU promised to help the region by a €3.3 billion ($3.6 million) package.

EU ambassadors have agreed on a €750 million micro-financial aid package for the six countries. After an official approval by EU institutions, financial assistance in the form of loans will help the region to relaunch the economies after the virus pandemic.

The European Investment Bank will provide a further €1.7 billion assistance.

The remaining €850 million will be transferred as a grant for economic and social recovery, as well as support for health care.

In a phone call ahead of the videoconference, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic thanked Charles Michel, president of the European Council, for solidarity.

Serbia, he said, was continuing the reform process with the aim of joining the EU.

Kosovo’s Ambassador to the EU, Bernard Nikaj, also spoke before the event. He expressed his hope to achieve visa-free travel for the country’s citizens to the EU.

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