Balkan Stability Pact chief expects EU cash at last

LONDON, Mar 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) The head of the troubled Balkan Stability Pact says he hopes to finally receive European funding for the first $1 billion in "quick start" projects nearly a year after NATO began bombing Yugoslavia over Kosovo.

Western nations pledged last July at a summit in Sarajevo to finance a major reconstruction drive to help southeastern Europe recover from the consequences of the Kosovo war and build cooperation and reform in place of ethnic strife.

But to the anger of many governments in the region and the dismay of the United States, which contributed the lion's share of the NATO war effort, European Union states are taking a long time to make good on their promises to pay for the peace.

"The credibility and success of the EU's common foreign and security policy is at stake in the follow-up to the Kosovo conflict," said Bodo Hombach, the Brussels-based coordinator of the Stability Pact's secretariat.

"There is high-level European political recognition of the importance of this effort, but there is resistance in the daily bureaucracy," he said on Tuesday evening after talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair and British officials.

Hombach, who has been lobbying EU finance ministers and government leaders intensively, said he was confident the Europeans would make good on their pledges at a March 29 donors' conference in Brussels to back a series of multinational projects that could be implemented within one year.

They include building bridges across the Danube, funding the U.N.-managed return of refugees, upgrading the main Kosovo-Macedonia border post and assisting the pro-Western government of the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.


Some U.S. and European diplomats say Hombach himself, who was German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's top troubleshooter until he ran into political trouble at home and was given the Brussels job, is part of the problem.

The critics, who were not willing to speak on the record, say the Stability Pact secretariat has achieved little and is steeped in bureaucracy. Hombach's lifestyle, salary and travel have attracted more attention than his achievements so far.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and UN envoy Richard Holbrooke have vented Washington's irritation at the slow pace of EU aid for the Balkans.

On a visit to Brussels last week, Albright spoke pointedly of the "need for pledges to be fulfilled".

Hombach said he shared Albright's impatience at what he called bureaucratic delays and found her pressure very helpful.

While the United States has offered less cash than the EU, it has made some $350 million available for the first year. Hombach said the American approach illustrated the German proverb: "He who gives quickly gives double."

Albright was hoping to attend the funding conference to underline the U.S. commitment, he said.

But Hombach said the Stability Pact was not just about money. Southeast European states had to make good on pledges of cooperation, economic reform and good governance, and a key part of the effort involved low-cost measures to promote democracy and human rights.

"Money without reform will have no effect," he said.

Asked whether it was feasible to stabilize the Balkans while President Slobodan Milosevic remained in power, Hombach said in the short term stability could be build "around Yugoslavia", but in the longer term, it would require cooperation with Serbia.

Original article