Magazine for Development and Cooperation, 02/2005
European Agency for Reconstruction is an innovative approach to deal with post-conflict
countries. Based in Saloniki , Greece , the Agency is contributing to stabilising
the Balkans region. Its focus today is on issues of governance, preparing clients
for future EU membership. In our article, the Agency's director elaborates on
how the institution works and what enables it to do its job effectively.
recent months, the Balkan region has seldom been in the news. The dramatic developments
elsewhere in the world have reduced public interest in the area. But in the Balkans,
life has gone on. And so has the laborious effort to put this much tried part
of Europe back on its feet, strengthen the democratisation process and eventually
steer the region towards membership in the European Union.
It was in the Balkans that the European Union launched its pioneering post-conflict
recovery initiative when it set up the European Agency for Reconstruction. From
the very beginning, our institution's existence was rooted in crisis and commitment.
The decision to establish the Agency was part of the EU's effort to help stabilise
a region marked by ethnic strife and political turmoil. It was linked to the wider
EU policy toward the Balkans known as the Stabilisation and Association Process.
In mid-1999, European leaders determined to help war-ravaged Kosovo and, no doubt
stung by criticism of EU's slow response to earlier Balkan crises, decided to
act quickly to stabilise Kosovo in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. The
European Commission became active in the province on the heels of the NATO-led
Kosovo intervention. At that time in June 1999, the EU's Cologne
summit asked the European Commission to establish an agency that would deal with
post-war reconstruction in Kosovo. In 2000, the collapse of the Milosevic regime
prompted the EU to extend our area of activity to Serbia and Montenegro .
At stake was Europe's ability to respond to the crisis, deliver rapid support
and eventually steer the region towards lasting democracy and stability after
years of sanctions, two months of NATO-led intervention and a popular upheaval
that swept Milosevic from power. The Agency's job was to help Serbia through its
first winter as a democracy. A year later the Agency was asked to deploy in the
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to help solidify a fragile ethnic peace
after an outbreak of violence between the country's Slav and ethnic Albanian communities.
These three situations that led to the establishment and expansion of the Agency
were of course very different. What made them similar, however, was that they
all saw the need for a rapid civilian intervention to stabilise a fragile environment,
be it a post-conflict situation or a delicate tug-of-war between the government
and the opposition that could easily deteriorate into violence and chaos (as was
the case in Serbia).
The European leaders understood that new situations called for new responses and
decided to give the Agency sufficient flexibility to be able to act quickly and
efficiently. We are supervised by a governing board of member states' representatives
and chaired by the European Commission. The Agency takes its decisions in the
field and it is involved in all stages of project management cycle, from identification
of needs to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It recruits its own staff
and adapts job profiles to changing needs.
The EU has thus become one of the first major international players to set up
a dedicated post-conflict reconstruction body designed to deal with multiple aspects
of post-conflict reality, at present limited to the Balkans.
Improving people's lives
Reconstruction, including of course physical reconstruction and its pace, are
closely linked to any success or failure of a post-conflict stabilisation effort.
An errant electricity supply, destroyed roads and bridges as well as shortages
of clean water are always destabilising factors in such a fragile environment
because they undermine the general well-being of the population and its potential
for economic development. One cannot expect reconciliation and political goodwill
when people lack electric power, shelter and prospects for economic or personal
Needless to say, efforts to improve people's lives in a tangible way bring the
additional benefit of stabilising the overall political situation. One good example
has been the Agency's role in Kosovo - our initial area of operation - where our
work has had an impact on virtually every aspect of
life from housing, roads, electricity and water supply to medical facilities,
schools, public administration and legislation. Despite all the problems that
Kosovo faces today and the uncertainty that still surround its final status, the
Agency's work has complemented the military and political effort and contributed
to overall stability on the ground.
In Serbia, the stabilisation drive initially focused on restoring electricity
and heat supply before the first winter without Milosevic. This included imports
of power and fuel as well as spare parts for coalmines. Emergency support was
given to schools and municipalities, the health sector received medical drugs
while farmers were given agricultural supplies.
What made it particularly challenging at the time was the need to act quickly
since any delay imperilled the entire effort to stabilise the situation. The Agency
worked together with the local partners as well as the UN and the United States
in what was a veritable race against time. Programme and tender management had
to be speedy and at the same time stay within the EU's demanding procurement rules
that were not really tailored to fast-changing emergency situations. Simultaneous
support for civil society and independent media was also an important element
of the overall strategy.
Of course, the focus of our work has since shifted to other projects with the
emphasis being not so much on physical reconstruction but on improving governance,
public administration and legislation. This includes not only helping countries
draft key legislation and create proper foundations for the rule of law but also
assisting then in actually implementing the laws. Such matters of governance issues
are, by their very nature, sensitive and it is precisely here that the supranational
mandate of the Agency proves particularly useful because it enables us to legitimately
demand compliance with international standards.
In the wake of the 2003 Saloniki summit, which cemented EU's relations with the
Balkan nations and opened the door for their eventual EU membership, the Agency
stepped up the shift of emphasis from reconstruction to pre-accession activities.
It is now focused on supporting the Balkan countries in their efforts to join
the EU. This task is different in nature and perhaps less visible then the physical
reconstruction of a country after war. But it is of vital importance in ensuring
that the countries meet the key standards for accession such as functioning parliamentary
democracy, rule of law and market economy.
When I look back at the nearly five years of the Agency's involvement in the Balkans,
I am convinced that the Euro 2 billion that we have spent so far has been well
spent. It went into rehabilitation of entire energy systems, reconstruction of
houses, roads and bridges, revamping of health services and reform and support
of the key elements of public administration, including justice, police, border
control as well as financial management, fiscal and economic reform.
The effectiveness of the international assistance work in the Balkans has always
been linked to coordination among the main players. We have worked with international
financial institutions like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development,
the European Investment Bank or Germany's KfW. Their financial support has been
vital for infrastructure projects. We have also worked with the United Nations,
the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council
of Europe on institution-building projects.
We have done important groundwork but there is much more to do not just in terms
of improving governance. The region's economies are in poor shape, plagued by
unemployment, lack of investment, weak infrastructure, under-developed agricultural
sectors and a sluggish pace of privatisation. It will take many more years of
investment and effort to bring the region close to what most Europeans see as
acceptable standards. We will continue to help, but our involvement alone will
not suffice without the participation and support of the societies we serve. It
is ultimately up to them to ensure the long-term development of their countries.
The fact that the Balkans is part of Europe with a realistic perspective of joining
the Union has certainly been a catalyst for reform and has reinforced efforts
to help the region. Other parts of the world are in a less favourable situation.
We have also benefited from the reasonably stable security situation in the areas
where we have worked. The presence of NATO-led forces and the European police
presence on the ground have given the region a level of security that other parts
of the world lack.
Up to here, I have dealt with the Agency's past and its present - but what about
its future? Last month, the European Council extended the Agency's mandate through
2006. What comes after that is uncertain. Whether the Agency continues to exist
- and, if so, in which form - will depend on how the Union wants to organise its
pre-enlargement assistance in the Balkans and its post-conflict and emergency
response tools elsewhere.
Under the new Commission, the European Agency for Reconstruction reports to the
Directorate General for Enlargement, which is responsible for the Balkans today.
But at the same time, it is worth remembering that the unique expertise, which
the European Union has acquired in the Balkans' post-conflict environments, could
be used in similar situations elsewhere in the world, regardless of the European