NEWS

‘We can’t do their reform for them:’ Director Richard Zink talks of funds and projects

You’ve just arrived in Pristina. What are the special challenges of your work in Kosovo as opposed to your other three offices? We started with the [United Nations Mission in Kosovo] UNMIK system, which evolved with the provisional institutions of self-government [in the province]. This complicates things, but also contributes to long-term success. We are a key to local institutions. Take a simple example, the energy sector. One of the biggest problems is the paying of bills. And if you want to cut off power to people who have not paid, you have local partners, so this helps. Your office has handled close to two billion euros since 2000, and about 330 million is expected this year (2003). What do you anticipate in terms of your future funding possibilities? At the moment, it is from the CARDS program, which is EU assistance for the Western Balkans. There is a total of 4.65 billion euros, guaranteed until end of 2005. But nobody has spoken about the cutting of funds. Also, in Kosovo, our funding was raised very high in 2000-2002 (…) The Kosovo fund was front-loaded because there was a very serious situation, but this has changed. In 2000, it was about 430 million; in 2002, 160 million. This is a big drop, but (…) Kosovo had an emergency need. How much do political considerations in general impinge on your agency’s work? I wouldn’t consider it a major constraint. The political guidelines are set by the EU Commission and by the member states. And within that, we are assigning the programs. We have not had any day-to-day infringements from the EU. (…) The lines are clear and obvious, and as long as we operate within these lines, we have this degree of autonomy that is necessary to succeed. When monitoring your projects, do you try to look for patterns in the problems and obstacles to success, or does each project have its own challenges? We need to look at both these issues. Each project is a challenge on its own, we learn from each one. Also, we have a close consultation between the four offices. We organize constant meetings among them… Last Friday, we [had] one on the environment, where task managers look at what they are doing, how we can learn better, what is working and why. Besides, we have a monitoring system in the agency, and an evaluation system, and that is in Thessaloniki, separate from the operational system, to give it a certain independence. What is needed in particular for the Balkans? More flights! Traveling in the Balkans is a cumbersome process. For example, to fly from Thessaloniki [north] to Belgrade, I must first fly [south] to Athens and then back to Belgrade, and I can see Thessaloniki from the air! But it is also easier to book a flight to Vienna or Munich than from Podgorica to Skopje or even Skopje to Belgrade. And in Pristina, you can fly to Vienna, Munich, Zurich, but not from Pristina directly to any of our neighboring countries. Does this indicate that your focus has been largely on transport projects? No, I don’t agree. Yes, in Pristina, but in Belgrade the EBRD is active (…) The overall amount, the 1.7 billion that we have managed, looks very impressive, but if you spend a lot on infrastructure like roads, you will find that it goes very quickly. What areas have you been pleased about? We were pleased that there were no power cuts last winter. A few weeks ago, the EBRD and Germany’s KfW accepted a proposal for a major new investment project in the mining sector. The ministry accepted it, we did the studies, and pushed the project. In Kosovo, 17,000-18,000 houses were rebuilt. This was also very successful. We are looking at energy sectors, with restructuring in the mining sector. And in [the Former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia and Skopje, electricity was restored for 150,000 after the civil conflict (…). Going forward As the S&A process moves forward and the Balkan states get closer to the EU, will this affect how the EU itself oversees your work at the agency? For example, from external affairs to another sector? I don’t know how the next Commission will be organized; it should be left to them to determine if priorities are shifting. At Zagreb three years ago, it was an emergency situation. Now, with them knocking much more on the door, these countries will have to show they are not just copying a law but actually implementing it. Serbia and Croatia have softened the visa travel regime for their citizens. So there is much movement (…) in the region. But we can’t do the reform for them. At the World Economic Forum last month in Athens, there was an impressive display of collective Balkan will to move forward together. Is there substance behind the rhetoric? There is a collective will to become a member of the EU, part of the prosperous part of the world. And to do this, reform is necessary. You cannot just carry on as in the past (…) The date to come in will depend not only on declarations on the EU side, but on how quickly reform is happening in Balkan countries (…)