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EU plans 9 bln euros investment for Balkans, bloc's enlargement chief says

BELGRADE, Oct 8 (Reuters) - The European Union’s enlargement commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi, said on Thursday that the bloc has designed a 9 billion euro ($10.6 billion) investment plan to aid the economic recovery of the six Western Balkan states.

The six - Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia - all aim to join the European Union but are each at different stages of the accession process.

The Balkan economies, which have lagged behind their regional peers who have already joined EU, have taken another hit from the coronavirus pandemic, which has curbed demand both at home and abroad.

Várhelyi said 9 billion euros would be given in grants mainly for infrastructure projects including railroads and broadband internet development.

He said the plan would promote investment in the green economy to reduce pollution in the region.

The region can only grow as a whole, he said after meeting Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, adding that the plan was designed to promote a common market among the six states, whose relations are often marred by political bickering.

Western governments have been worried about Chinese and Russian influence in the region for several years as well as a slide towards authoritarianism, corruption and organised crime. ($1 = 0.8506 euros) (Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Hugh Lawson)