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Balkans: New Coordinator Plans Boost For Stability Pact

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The new head of the Balkans Stability Pact, Erhard Busek, says he wants to see more cooperation from regional nations in the work of the pact. In remarks to RFE/RL, Busek also says it's time for the pact to become more "visible" in the countries it is seeking to help, and describes one of his key tasks as supporting the region's preparations for accession to the European Union.

Prague, 29 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- On a sultry July day in 1999, the Bosnian capital Sarajevo suffered an invasion of an unusual sort. The city was inundated by international leaders, who arrived in gleaming limousines amid the drumming of helicopters circling overhead.

There was the president of the United States, leaders of the European Union and its member states, the heads of international bodies like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and top officials from institutions like the International Monetary Fund and NATO.

And of course there were the leaders of the region itself --- from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovenia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, and elsewhere.

They all met in a sports stadium, just below the makeshift cemetery where Bosnian Muslims buried their dead during the long siege of Sarajevo by ethnic Serbs. It was a fitting setting for the aim of the summit -- namely, to form the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe. The pact, with its 40 partner countries and organizations, marked the first serious attempt by the international community to build a long-term strategy to prevent conflict in the volatile Balkans region.

The summit came to an end, the limousines sped back to the airport, and the job of transforming the pact from hopes and words into a working reality started. That difficult task fell to German politician Bodo Hombach, who was appointed special coordinator.

Perhaps, after the initial fanfare, it was natural that a certain sense of anticlimax would set in. For months, little was heard of the pact and what publicity there was often seemed unflattering -- like the press story which referred to the pact's "last chance" to prove its relevance.

But behind the scenes, despite the difficulties, Hombach was laying the groundwork for the stability pact's activities in promoting human rights, economic development, and security in the Balkans. Its three "working tables" have helped to develop to date almost 250 projects, with an overall financial commitment of some $2 billion.

Hombach finished his term on 31 December, still complaining that the EU -- the biggest contributor to the pact -- was slowing down the realization of projects because of bureaucratic inefficiency. The new coordinator, Austrian diplomat Erhard Busek, says a second phase in the pact's work is now beginning. He says he understands the sense of frustration in the region, but that initial expectations were unrealistic.

"It's a problem that initial expectations were too high. If you use -- [as we do] -- the expression "quick-start project," I think it was expected, especially within the region, that the Caterpillar [tractors] would begin [work the] next week. That is not possible, but I am focusing now on the realization of projects as quickly as possible."

Busek says, however, that progress can only be step-by-step. He notes the complexities of organizing projects when coordination is required between the various rules of, for example, the EU's executive commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, and the World Bank, among other organizations. He also cites the great diversity in the region as a complicating factor in the pact's work.

"It has to be [step]-by-step because we have a clearly differentiated situation: We are focusing on two [EU] candidate countries -- Romania and Bulgaria -- and other countries which are developing well; and [still other] countries with a lot of open questions like Macedonia; and then Kosovo, Montenegro, and also the situation in Albania, which is a little bit volatile."

Busek says it's time for the pact to engage itself more deeply in the region, in order to build tangible partnerships and to encourage cooperation between the states themselves.

"What we have to do now, first of all, is to enhance regional cooperation. We need representatives of the region to come on board, maybe through the Southeast European Cooperation process. Cross-border cooperation has to be fostered in the region, [so that] we have partners in the region, so that we have partners [for] all the objectives of the Stability Pact."

He describes the pact's work as aiming to develop the threads of integration, which will bind the region to the mainstream of Europe, and he sees this as complementary to the process of eventual accession to the European Union. But in the meantime, Busek says, the pact must raise its profile.

"The second thing is, we need more visibility. Therefore I'm trying to move the [pact's] Center for Organized Crime to Bucharest and maybe the Center for Electricity to Sofia, so that the regional ownership [of such agencies] is quite clear."

The new coordinator also calls for the finalization of free-trade agreements by the end of the year, and the stimulation of foreign investment in the region.