NEWS

Long haul of rebuilding Europe’s backyard

Not many three-year-olds can claim worldly success, but then the reconstruction of the Balkans, begun in earnest only in 2000, is no typical development process. Coming after a decade of civil strife, ethnic cleansing, economic collapse and foreign intervention, the countries of Southeastern Europe entered the new millennium with scant hopes for the future.Yet three years on, the situation has changed dramatically under the European Union’s «stabilization and association (S&A) process.» The bloc will add an unprecedented 10 new members next year, including two countries on the regional flank (Cyprus and Slovenia). It has also turned a new leaf in recognizing, explicitly, that expansion will not be complete without incorporating the Western Balkans. For the first time, EU membership is a realistic – if still distant – prospect for Greece’s Balkan neighbors, expected to be reiterated at this week’s EU summit at Thessaloniki and another on the Western Balkans. But huge political, economic and social problems remain. A key to this transformation is the European Agency for Reconstruction (EAR), already an important strand in a broadening web of relations. The agency, with its headquarters in Thessaloniki, four operational centers (Belgrade, Skopje, Pristina and Podgorica) and nearly 2 billion euros in aid funds, carries out technical projects in e.g. infrastructure and energy, although increasingly its focus is institutional reform and improving governance. Three agency figures – Director Richard Zink, head of information John Phillips and Nicolas Marcoux, head of operations in Serbia – told Kathimerini English Edition late last week about progress since the harrowing first winter, defended the European commitment to the region and outlined the many challenges ahead.