The European countries caught in a vaccine no man’s land
Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are still waiting to receive their first vaccine shipments, while rollouts in Albania and northern Macedonia have so far been limited to a few hundred people.
The Western Balkan countries are key allies and potential future members of the European Union, but have been dropped from the block’s immediate vaccine supply plans.
The European Union has received more than 2.3 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines, saying it expects to share some of them with others. It also earmarked € 70 million ($ 85 million) for the Western Balkan region to buy some of these supplements in the future, but since its own rollout has been slow and delayed, those countries are still waiting.
And as relatively wealthy countries – at least in the global context – they are also not a top priority for programs designed to help the world’s poorest countries access vaccines.
Many see the omission of European Balkan countries as an opportunity. “This is a small area in terms of population, meaning that with a small investment in vaccines, the European Union would have gained a lot in terms of soft power and influence in the region,” said Alba Sela, executive director . Albanian Institute for International Studies. The fact that the European Union did not do that “is allowing other actors to play a role,” she said.
Angelules Morina, senior policy partner at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said this feeling of being left behind could have serious implications for the region’s security.
“Europe has really neglected the region for so long and it makes the region unsafe for other outside actors,” she said, “this is where Russia comes in. This is where China comes . This is where Turkey comes in, and they have filled the void in various aspects. “
Move to china
Facing the prospect of a long wait, Serbia, the largest of the six western Balkan countries, took matters into its own hands and looked for vaccines elsewhere. China and Russia were ready to step in.
Most of them received the Chinese vaccine, although the government said it had also received 90,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and 40,950 doses of the Pfizer / Bioentech vaccine. The price of Serbia paid for the vaccine has not been disclosed.
Adnan Serimjic, senior analyst at Policy and Research Institute ESI, said that without the Chinese vaccine, Serbia would be in the same position as the rest of the region. “The entire success of the vaccination program depends on China and I think it has also worked for China, using Serbia as a place where they can make their impact in Europe … Media reports said that thanks to the Chinese vaccine, Serbia is doing better than Germany and many other countries, “he said.
Carragher said the deal is a win-win situation. “There is clearly a clear advantage for Serbia, being not only the top vaccineer in the continent of Europe, but also a legalization of government, which is democratically backtracking,” she said. “But here, you know, whenever you come to Europe for the first time, it feels like you’re doing something good.”
China also has a lot to achieve. “President Xi has stated that his goal is to make the region the first region in the world to be fully covered by the Belt and Road initiative and from this point of view, such alliances can be diverted to other diplomatic priorities , “Said Carrager. The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s signature global infrastructure policy that seeks to build new trade corridors connecting China to Asia, Africa and Europe.
“It is also about the underlying principle behind the vaccine program, which is what they are selling, giving transparency and lack of vaccines legitimacy. [being] It was widely deployed before it was actually declared safe, ”said Carragher, pointing to the fact that Russia began its vaccination program before finalizing the clinical trial, while China Have not published your data in a peer-reviewed publication.
Vaccines are not China’s first venture into the Western Balkans – over the past decade, it has invested heavily in Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, financing large infrastructure and resource projects including highways in Bosnia and Herzegovina And mines and factories in Serbia. It has also opened Confucian institutions and the University’s Department of Papiology throughout the region.
The rollout of Serbia has been such a success that it has allowed the government to join its round of regional vaccination diplomacy.
Last week it donated 4,688 of its Pfizer / Bioentech doses to northern Macedonia, which is still awaiting any of the more than 100,000 doses received through COVAX. The donation was offered as a major sign of cooperation, with Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia Zoran Zaev attending a handover ceremony along the border.
On Wednesday, Serbia announced that it would donate 4,000 doses of the Russian vaccine to Montenegro, which is still waiting for its other deliveries.
Donations are a symbolic gesture. But in a historically unstable, vulnerable area, the symbols of the case.
Kosovo has ordered more than 100,000 doses of the vaccine from COVAX and is expecting deliveries from the European Union under the € 70% plan.
The Serbian government also said that it donated some of its doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Republika Srpska – one of the two highly autonomous entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the website of the Ministry of Health of Republika Srpska, the vaccination of 1,000 health care workers started earlier last week. The region has also ordered 400,000 doses of the Russian vaccine. The country’s Bosnia-Croatia unit, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government, said it ordered 800,000 doses through the EU scheme.
Separately, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the governing body of the entire country, has ordered 1.2 million doses through the COVAX program.
Albania has acquired 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine through a direct contract with the company, although according to the government, fewer than 10,000 have been delivered so far – not enough to vaccinate the country’s 23,000 health care workers. On top of its Pfizer deal, Albania has also ordered approximately 1.1 million doses through COVAX, ensuring that it will have sufficient doses for its entire population.
‘EU could have done more’
While the European Union has promised to help the region purchase the Kovid-19 vaccine, there is no indication of how it will work.
But from a strategic and security point of view, the region is important for the European Union. It is geographically completely surrounded by member states of the European Union, but remains vulnerable. Albania, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia are all officially EU candidate countries, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are seen as potential future candidates.
Sela said this proximity to the EU is because it is not meant to show solidarity with poor neighbors. “There is a lack of strategic vision. If the region is to be integrated – and it is already integrated in the European Union, because we have free movement and we have many people who are practically traveling back and forth Have been – it makes no sense for the European Union not to provide the region with vaccines, ”she said, declining vaccination rates in neighboring countries would represent a risk to the European Union.
“It’s a very hot topic right now,” said Sela. Noting that the overwhelming feeling in the region is that the EU could have done more for the Western Balkans.