In the coming months, as vaccinations in Europe improve and life slowly returns to a state of semi-normalcy, people from the Western Balkans, which some call the outskirts of the EU – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – may find themselves locked out of the gates of the bloc.
With large numbers of diaspora
, working migrants, and students in the EU, restricting travel for these Europeans — as they are mostly inoculated
with Chinese and Russian vaccines — would be not only undesirable, but also unfair in a time in which Western Balkan leaders have openly expressed feeling let down, especially in the first wave of Covid-19 last year and the ordering of vaccines.
“As a human, I felt indignant, and as a European, ashamed,” Albanian PM Edi Rama said
, voicing his disappointment over the fact that Western Balkans countries, which are in process of becoming EU members, were left on their own to haggle with Pfizer and others, while the bloc was negotiating as one entity. President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia commented
that “It’s not easy watching the others in the surroundings taking all those vaccines, and you have nothing to offer to your people…We needed to take care of ourselves.”
This neglect during the first wave of vaccination, where speedy inoculation of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers was crucial, coupled with the slow roll-out of vaccines from the EU-supported COVAX scheme
for disadvantaged countries, seems to have been one of the reasons behind the region’s decision to turn their sights to the east. Only Kosovo is so far resisting
the temptation of using Chinese and Russian vaccines, in part because those countries don’t recognize its sovereignty.
Against this backdrop, an exclusion due to their “wrong” choice of vaccines would further bitter the sentiments of Balkan leaders and will look like a second let down during the pandemic – feeding into a broader sentiment that the EU is not paying enough attention to a region already fatigued by a lengthy and draining integration process.