Saturday, September 6, 2008

EU shows unity, Thaci gets another dole of billions for Kosovo

Brussels, July 14 - The European Union maintained its facade of unity towards Kosovo at a donor’s conference held in Brussels on July 11 as the seven EU countries, which have not recognised Kosovo, also participated in the conference. Speaking to journalists on the conditions of anonymity, their representatives said that they must maintain silence and observer status.

Confirming to journalists, Pierre Mirrel, Director for the Western Balkans in the enlargement section of the European Commission said that none of those countries pledged any financial assistance, adding he expected “the pledges from those countries in coming period.” Trying to allay concerns raised by journalists, Mirrel said, “The Member States (which) even have not recognised, have agreed with other 20 Member States, with the EU willingness, to support economic and financial development of Kosovo.” “Kosovo has a European perspective,” he stressed. Out of a total pledge of 1.2 billion Euro to Kosovo’s socioeconomic development, 508 million Euro came from the EU.

Addressing the audience, EU enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said, “I am proud that by pledging half a billion Euro, the EU today clearly demonstrates its commitment to Kosovo and to the stability of the Western Balkans.” “I am also thankful to our international partners for their contribution and engagement. The 1.2 billion Euro pledged today will help to bring about a better future for all living in Kosovo,” added Rehn.

Thaci happy

A visibly happy Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said: “This is a great success for my country and its citizens. The conference marks a new chapter for the economic development of Kosovo.” On the question of rampant corruption, staggering unemployment figures and earlier embezzlement episodes, Thaci told the audience, “We will start and implement the projects in shortest possible time - by providing good governance we will succeed in implementing this investment.” “This kind of support would not have come if donors were not convinced that good governance had been established,” he added.

On the subject of democratic reforms in the country and state of minorities, Thaci was upbeat saying he was proud to lead a multiethnic, European and democratic state. “We are well aware of our responsibilities,” said Thaci. “We will never disappoint you,” he added. Thanking the European Union, the US and other donor countries, Thaci said, “Kosovo’s vision is very clear: Integration into EU and NATO.”

Watching the money flow

Replying to a question on the financial mechanisms to alleviate concerns about the absorption capacity and corruption, Mirrel listed three delivery modes:

- Through agreed budget support but does not mean funds are sent to the government, there are conditions attached

- A trust fund which was launched by the World Bank last week and welcomed by donors and pledged to be used

- Classical Project Support: Pre-accession programmes

Part of the dole (1.1 billion Euro) will be used for investing in the infrastructure to connect Kosovo with the rest of the region, improving the conditions for education of Kosovo’s extremely young population, and developing Kosovo’s institutions to consolidate democracy and rule of law in a multi-ethnic society. Another “100 million that have been pledged will be used to build up a contingency reserve,” explained Mirrel. To the question of debt obligations, he said this reserve may be used to service those.

Uncertain future

Moreover, Kosovo under UN administration since 1999, when NATO bombing ended Serbian ethnic-cleansing in the region, is now at a crossroads. The EU is in a dilemma as it now aims to take on a leading role in helping rebuild its administration and judiciary through its EULEX mission which has run into legality problems. Kosovo, with a predominantly ethnic-Albanian population of two million, declared unilateral independence from Serbia in February and adopted a new constitution in June.

Serbia, along with its strong allies like Russia, is not letting Kosovo take baby steps toward nation-building as the tiny nation struggles to survive on dole-outs and prop-ups from the US and fractured EU. According to International Monetary Fund data, there was a meagre economic growth of three percent between 2003 and 2007 and the IMF found it much below the average for the region.

Wahhabism on the rise

With unemployment running at around 50 percent and rampant corruption coupled with organised crime networks mushrooming all over, the region is one of the poorest and most dangerous to live in Europe. As reported earlier in New Europe Issue 749 ( 8326.php), the grip of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam being exported out of Saudi Arabia and alleged booster of terrorism is tightening its vicious grip on Kosovo population at an alarming rate as money is allegedly being offered to families depending on the way the women use veils to cover in orthodox Islamic traditions.

Thaci did not have time to comment on the subject, his spokesman told New Europe at the end of the press conference. The donors’ conference was called at the behest of the European Commission which explained that it was responding to the European Council statement of December 2007 when it called for EU’s readiness to assist Kosovo on the road towards sustainable stability.

Among the participants were representatives from all EU Member States, members of the European Parliament, international donors such as the US, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, Canada, Israel, Kuwait, Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, as well as international financial institutions, UN agencies and regional organisations such as OSCE, NATO, and the OECD.

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