News analysis: COVID-19 and international assistance to Albania

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2020 15:27

News analysis: COVID-19 and international assistance to Albania

In his frequent addresses via social media to the Albanian public on the Covid-19 crisis and measures, Prime Minister Edi Rama often claims that Albania is in this war alone and that this disaster has countries in the world each scrambling only about their own citizens. 

Some degree of skepticism about the lack of international solidarity is justified and has been vocal in hard hit places. However international assistance in the management of the Covid-19 crisis does exist and can be accessed. China has sent indeed medical supplies and staff to Italy which is still bearing an enormous cost with a spiraling death toll. Remarkably even Cuba sent to Italy doctors trained in emergency crisis. 

In our region, the case of Serbia is quite telling. In a rare emotional press conference President Vucic berated the European Union member states for not selling medical equipment to Serbia and for not assisting otherwise. "Thank you for nothing!" Vucic concluded while saying that he had already made a personal plea for help to the Chinese President. 

The EU responded by approving a 7.5 million euro sum for Serbia to fight the crisis. "Action not words" was the ironic rebuke of Ambassador of EU in Serbia, Fabrizi, in his relevant Twitter announcement that cargo planes would bring necessary equipment within a week.

In addition even EU's High Representative Borell made sure to call President Vucic and assure him of the EU's help. Pressure in this case seems to have worked seamlessly. 

In this very difficult times help is welcome from west and East in equal measure.

 In the case of Albania the only foreign assistance ever mentioned is the expected help from Turkey. First the Prime Minister spoke rather ambiguously about it when mentioning that in case all else fails, his "plan C" relies on the help of President Erdogan who has been allegedly previously consulted. Rama did not share the details of Plan C. A few days later national media reported that a Turkish company that has developed rapid testing equipment for the virus would be available to ship over thousands of kits to Albania in the short term but there were no indication that the government had ordered any or expressed interest to consider this option whose cost was equally not revealed.

There is no public declaration that Albania has approached the EU with any request or specific pleas for help. Additionally despite the willingness of the Chinese government expressed by the Chinese ambassador in a recent interview to show 'true friendship in dire times' there is no evidence that Albania has even sought this help. 

Whereas Serbia and Montenegro can also apply to the EU Solidarity Fund, this cannot be done yet by Albania and North Macedonia unless they also receive a formal decision to become negotiating countries. This decision is expected within this week and some positive signals have already leaked to the media however it remains to be seen how it will be announced officially.

As the time of the crisis extends well beyond the period that was first assumed to be limited, Albania will need to ramp up significantly its efforts to seek medical and financial assistance from abroad. 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2020 15:27