By Menekse Tokyay
In a boost for the regional integration of the Western Balkans and Turkey into European institutions, the European Commission (EC) plans to invest almost 1 billion euros to support a series of reforms.
The funding comes under the 2011 budget of the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), with the total pre-accession funding for the period 2007-2013 amounting to 11.5 billion euros.
IPA funding supports regional integration between candidate countries, potential candidate countries and EU member states through country specific and regional projects.
Turkey is the biggest single recipient of aid — with 233m euros earmarked mainly for judicial reforms, climate change and environmental projects. As the second largest recipient, Serbia will receive 178.5m euros. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Albania, Kosovo, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Iceland will also benefit to the tune of 91.2m; 82m; 63m; 39m; 28.9m; 26.5m; and 12m euros, respectively.
A further 210m euros are set to be allocated for programmes across countries and to support international monitoring bodies in BiH and Kosovo.
“All these programmes have been designed to achieve concrete results in terms of better public administration, more efficient judiciary and law enforcement, stable economy as well as safer environment,” European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Fule said in the press statement.
Mate Gjorgjievski, transport law expert at the South East Europe Transport Observatory based in Serbia, told SETimes that cross-regional programmes are complementary to individual national programmes.
“They address the shared needs of the region and promote regional co-operation in many areas, which is a pre-condition for the European integration,” Gjorgievski said.
Improving the regional transport system is a crucial component of IPA funds.
“We expect that these funds will help in developing the infrastructure and will further bring an added value to the regional transport planning and investment co-ordination,” he said.
To achieve greater regional integration, the pace of reform needs to be accelerated and co-ordinated according to a common set of standards. Individual country’s reforms that bring policies in line with EU standards will not only bring the countries closer to the EU, but simultaneously bring Balkan states in line with each other.
“It helps to start and implement programmes, actions and projects aimed at advancing the country and deepening the co-operation both with the EU and with the region,” Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy spokesman Peter Stano told SETimes.
The distribution of funds for each country is the subject of debate, with criticism arising from the fact that funds are not handed out in direct proportion to the area or population of countries.
According to Armagan Emre Cakir, of the EU Institute of Marmara University in Istanbul, the allocation of aid takes into account the needs assessment of the countries.
“Croatia, for instance, which is nearly six times larger than Kosovo, receives only twice the aid Kosovo does. Turkey, which is larger and three times more populated than the total of the other candidates, received less than half of the total aid,” he told SETimes.
Despite the deadlock in its accession process, EU funding continues to be a catalyst for reform in Turkey. Democratisation, fundamental rights, rule of law and acquis alignment are the key priorities to be addressed by Turkey.
“These EU projects implemented/being implemented under these programmes assist Turkey in reaching its utmost goals towards membership,” Turkey’s Deputy Undersecretary of the Ministry for EU Affairs Ahmet Yucel said.
“In terms of financial perspective, the allocated amounts are based on the Commission’s own assessment of past performance and recent audits and evaluations; so Turkey is taking on board the lessons learnt to increase its absorption capacity,” Yucel noted.
“The reform process on acquis and the EU financial assistance procedures are complementary to one another,” he said, acknowledging that in spite of all the political ups and downs, the EU financial assistance process has continued smoothly and will do so in the future.
In Kosovo, funds will be allocated to support the judicial system, private sector-led economic development and public administration reform. In addition, Kosovo will receive a chunk of the additional 210m euros allocated to support international monitoring in BiH and Kosovo.
“The funds are dedicated [in Kosovo] mainly for supporting justice, economic development led by the private sector and reform of the public administration,” Recura Financials analyst Hekuran Neziri said.
However, due to the fact that Kosovo has not yet integrated these funds within a single government strategy and that corruption cases are still prevalent, these funds cannot produce the expected impact, experts think.
In BiH, funding will focus on justice and police reform, the strengthening of institutions in line with EU membership requirements and education reform, as well as on supporting critical infrastructure and rural development, explained an official from the EU office in Sarajevo.
However, Amra Selesković, founder and director of the Vesta Association, argues that although IPA funds are intended to target the local population’s needs, the full benefit cannot be utilised without a stable, functioning government in BiH.