SARAJEVO, April 25 (FENA) – The countries of the Western Balkans, as well as all other countries in the world at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, focused on procurement of emergency supplies, goods and necessary medical equipment, and the governments quickly offered a response to prevent the spread of the virus, said Majlinda Bregu, Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) in an interview with FENA.
She recalled that governments have faced more or less public criticism, but the biggest problem will be mitigating consequences the pandemic has left on the economy.
“This is currently the biggest problem we face. I think that together we could respond to the crisis because we need to think about the future. The region has been affected in recent years by various crises such as floods, earthquakes, and then came the pandemic,” reminded Bregu.
She expressed satisfaction that the RCC was an institution that led common approaches to various issues, such as the regional initiative for the establishment of so-called green lanes, which play an important role in preserving the economy of the Western Balkans since the coronavirus pandemic has started.
In the past year, the waiting time for trucks with medical equipment, medicines, food and animal feed at the border crossings of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) countries has been halved.
Green lanes were established just at the time when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread. The CEFTA Secretariat, in cooperation with the Transport Community and the Regional Cooperation Council, has established this important initiative to facilitate border crossings.
“We have managed to maintain green lanes among ourselves that are open 24 hours seven days a week. I think that is one of the best answers we can give whenever we are affected by a crisis. I don’t know if something like that will remain sustainable, but during the last year it proved to be very useful,” Bregu underlined.
The region of the six countries of the Western Balkans is not a rich region and the number of unemployed is extremely high, as shown by the latest RCC data from February 2021. According to these data, 1,407,000 are registered as unemployed in the Western Balkans. More than 700,000 of that number are women.
The data on the number of unemployed young people under the age of 24 are also very worrying. The issues of young people were great even before the pandemic, because these are categories with high expectations that will not be met, and all this is a clear indication that it is necessary to remain committed to a common response to the challenges.
The RCC will soon publish two Balkan barometers, one of which is the traditional Balkan Barometer on the situation in the region, but will also publish a barometer on the level of security in the region for the first time and provide data on how young people see regional co-operation digital services.
Data on how much time young people spend online will be presented and all this will show that young people not only understand the situation in the region but also have good suggestions on how to shape policy, but the biggest concern is what the social structure of the Western Balkans will be in the coming years.
Bregu announced that roaming between the six countries of the Western Balkans will be completely free as of July 1.
Bearing in mind the fact that one of the two citizens of the region believes that the agreement on the abolition of roaming helped them save a lot of money, Bregu said that she is proud that the RCC was the proponent and led the initiative.
Speaking about the next steps the RCC wants to take this year to connect the countries of the region, she announced that one of those initiatives would be to establish a common regional market, and there are plans to introduce ID card travel. She also reminded of the problem of visas for visiting Kosovo.
The RCC is working diligently to promote the region’s tourism as a fast-growing industry, but that segment has been hit hard by the pandemic. The countries of the Western Balkans were visited by 12 million people in 2019, which brought a profit of more than 7.2 billion euros, but during the pandemic, as many as 75 percent of the booked arrangements were canceled.
“Now we are working on the promotion of tourism and we must think how to attract visitors, but also how to position tourism as a key economic branch of the region’s development and economic recovery. It is also necessary to guarantee safe travel and establish hygienic protocols,” she said.
When it comes to digitalization in the Western Balkans, Bregu says that the region is lagging behind in that process, but not only because it has limited resources, but also because of the speed of the digital and technological revolution.
Due to all this, the Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), Majlinda Bregu, in an interview with FENA, announced the implementation of numerous initiatives that will contribute to digitalization.