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Afghanistan: EU Calls For 'Equitable' Burden-Sharing At Donors Conference

The international donors conference for Afghanistan begins in Tokyo only days from now (21-22 January). But prospective donors remain tight-lipped on how much they are willing to contribute, or for how long a period. The only thing that is clear is that Afghanistan will need at least $10 billion over the next five years. Today, the European Commission offered reporters in Brussels some insight into European thinking on the issue.

Brussels, 17 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission, which every now and then likes to remind the global public that it is by far the world's largest aid donor, is in something of a bind over Afghanistan.

On the one hand, the commission wants Afghanistan to receive its due at the Tokyo donors' conference, and is arguing for a relatively long-term time frame for contributions. It has also accepted the relatively high "preliminary needs assessment" for Afghanistan, released yesterday by a team of experts from the World Bank, the UN Development Program, and the Asian Development Bank. According to the team's estimate, Afghanistan will need between $9 billion and $12 billion over the course of the next five years.

On the other hand, there seems to be a real fear in the commission and the EU at large that Europe -- which has no clear and immediate interests in Afghanistan -- might be forced to pick up most of that bill.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels today, Marcus Cornaro, one of the leading commission officials dealing with aid to Asia, said the EU is committed to a long-term aid program for Afghanistan.

"The main issue [is] whether we should focus [the] pledging for one year, for 2 1/2 years or for five years. The European Union and the [European] Commission have strongly advocated that apart from receiving firm pledges for 2002, it is clear that Tokyo in a few days' time provides a unique opportunity to underwrite the reconstruction effort for a longer term period. We think we should get clear [political] pledges for a five-year period from most of the major donors from most of the major regions."

According to Cornaro, one year would be "far too short" a time for pledges to make a difference, whereas a 2 1/2-year timeframe would allow the donors to focus on preliminary needs only, and would not be enough to set in motion a sustainable reconstruction effort.

Cornaro says the international donors' effort must be mirrored "very soon" by Afghan authorities who must put in place their own credible budgetary, macroeconomic, and financial frameworks. He said the EU realizes it would take at least "a couple of years" before Afghanistan could become fully eligible for conventional lending from multinational lending institutions. Cornaro says that reinforces the commission's view that a five-year time span is a "very reasonable" period for sustained effort.

At the end of that period, however, the commission expects that Afghanistan will have been built up to an extent that allows it to assume the obligations of a normal recipient country, with international financing institutions taking on a major role, decreasing pressure on bilateral donors and grant funding in general.

However, Cornaro made it clear that there is a limit to the commitments the European Union itself is prepared to make.

"We believe it's a very important issue that from the outset the European Union, if it were to make a substantial pledge to Afghanistan, will not be the one footing the majority of the bill. In preparation for the conference, [there] are four co-chairs -- the Americans, the Japanese, the Saudi Arabians, and the European Union -- representing, broadly speaking, the four main geographical regions of the world [involved with Afghanistan] and we think that should also be the [starting point] for a fair, general, global burden-sharing [in] this group."

Cornaro said it was very important for the European Union that the four groups resolve this "delicate [and] tricky" issue "equitably."

Cornaro's concerns were amplified by Gunnar Wiegand -- spokesman for the EU's External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten. Speaking alongside Cornaro, Wiegand said the commission's aid resources were stretched "to the limit," adding that it was already having difficulties in Kosovo. Wiegand said that although the commission was committed to the budget ceilings agreed for the period 2000-06 at the EU's Berlin summit, he hoped EU member states would allow the commission greater "flexibility" within the existing fiscal framework. A background document issued by the European Commission today says the EU is determined to make a "significant contribution" to the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. The document says the EU's 2002 budget already provides for 200 million euros in reconstruction aid to Kabul on top of ongoing substantial humanitarian assistance.

Explaining the strategy underlying the commission's reconstruction program in Afghanistan, the document says the EU wants humanitarian aid to continue running in parallel with at least initial rehabilitation efforts. Commission support is said to be conditional on "a positive contribution by all the parties of Afghanistan to the process and goals agreed in Bonn" last year. These goals include establishing a lasting peace, representative governance and eliminating terrorism.

The commission document also stresses that the reconstruction process should be driven by the new Afghan authorities, with the full involvement of populations at community level, "taking account of Afghan sensitivity and concerns."

The document says programs supported by the EU must "systematically integrate" -- among other things -- promoting human rights, enhancing the role and status of women, and protecting children and other vulnerable groups.