US angry at EU's foot-dragging on pact pledgesBalkans wait in vain for western funds
Tuesday March 14, 2000
Brussels - It was billed as the launch of a new era in which peace, prosperity and democracy would finally come to the Balkans - and wars like Kosovo would never happen again.
Last July, as Nato consolidated its hold on the Serbian province, President Bill Clinton visited Sarajevo's overflowing cemeteries in neighbouring Bosnia and declared that ethnic conflict had no place in the 21st century. But now the victors are at loggerheads over paying for the stability pact unveiled with such fanfare in the Bosnian capital: under the pact, donors were meant to help rebuild the Balkans, but - while Kosovo is getting some funds - the scheme has yet to deliver a penny to the wider region.
No longer concealing its irritation, Washington is demanding that EU states put hard cash on the table when donor countries meet in Brussels later this month. It looks like being an important and highly public test of the gap between rhetoric and reality - and it is already ratcheting up transatlantic tensions.
In a sharp private letter to EU foreign ministers last week, Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, pledged $350m (£222m) for "quick start" and "first priority" projects and nearly $400m for next year - though those figures, she warned, would depend on what other countries were prepared to spend.
"We are keen on understanding more clearly the exact commitments you are prepared to make," Mrs Albright added tartly.
Chris Patten, the EU's external relations commissioner, quickly cautioned that disagreements over money could "poison or warp" European-American ties.
Britain, Belgium and Spain have failed to meet their initial pledges to the pact. According to EU estimates, it could cost between $60bn and $100bn to rebuild south-eastern Europe - though no one is offering sums remotely near that.
The Brussels pledging conference, starting on March 29, will be looking at initial projects worth between $1bn and $2bn.
There was no price tag when Balkan countries were offered their grand bargain in Sarajevo: embrace democracy and the free market, they were told, and Europe will embrace you. The Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, who has done neither, was not invited.
Some have taken this advice to heart: Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are already members of Nato and on track for EU membership. Romania and Bulgaria were rewarded with their promise of eventual EU membership at December's Helsinki summit.
Macedonia has just been given a "stabilisation and association agreement" with Brussels. Croatia will get one as soon as its new democratic government - being wooed by the foreign secretary, Robin Cook, yesterday - fulfils its promises to allow Serb refugees return home and cooperates with the Hague war crimes tribunal.
Impoverished Albania is complaining loudly that it is not getting its share of the pie, while EU officials speak with mounting concern about exaggerated expectations and the dangers of a creating a "culture of dependency".
Most experts agree that a regional approach is right. Transfrontier transport and other infrastructural projects are stability pact priorities, building on the idea that countries which trade with each other will not easily go to war.
Yet hardly anyone has a good word for the pact and its coordinator, Germany's Bodo Hombach, who is seen as adding another layer of bureaucracy to an already chaotic scene.
"Up to now the pact has delivered nothing and appears characterised by delays and lack of coordination," is Oxfam's gloomy assessment.
"Frankly it has produced very little," said one EU diplomat. "We are definitely approaching the moment of truth at this conference."
James Lyons, a Balkan specialist with the International Crisis Group, warns that pledges made in Brussels may well turn out to be existing money repackaged, though he argues that Mrs Albright has good reason to complain about the performance of the Europeans.
"The EU is always the Johnny-come-lately - not a month, but a year or more late," he says. "The US comes in quickly while the Europeans pronounce and take years to get their act together. By the time they do, the impact is squandered."
But Balkan prosperity is not just about donor generosity: recipient countries need to tackle the high levels of corruption and organised crime that hinder economic development and frighten potential foreign investors.
Montenegro - which many fear will be the region's next flashpoint - is likely to be an important test of western resolve. Because it is still part of the Yugoslav Federation, the mountainous republic is not eligible for World Bank or IMF loans. EU help, Mrs Albright declared, was "critical."
Looking back a year after the war, the victors of Kosovo need to take many more costly decisions, as stability pact documents graphically illustrate. Project costs are divided into three neat vertical columns - sum needed, sum pledged, sum outstanding. In the vast majority of cases, the middle column is still blank.