Ailing Pact

The Stability Pact's sluggish start is tarnishing its credibility in the Balkans.

Ailing Pact

The Stability Pact's sluggish start is tarnishing its credibility in the Balkans.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

When Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer ticks off the unsung successes of his office, the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe tops the list. And international experts agree that Fischer's brainchild, a much vaunted comprehensive regional plan for the entire Balkan region, is just what the doctor ordered - in fact, most agree it's what the doctor should have ordered ten years ago.

Yet, to herald the post-Kosovo conflict Stability Pact a success story is, by any measure, premature. Though launched with great fanfare last year in Sarajevo - dozens of heads of state, including US President Bill Clinton, and international organizations attended the summit - critics charge the initiative has been undermined by half-hearted support, a weak mandate and poor organization.

After a troubled start for the fledgling initiative, the successful donor conference in Brussels this week cleared a critical hurdle, raising $2.3 billion in economic aid for a plethora of infrastructure and other projects, including water schemes in Albainia, roads in Montenegro and electricity connections to Bosnia.

The pledges, which exceeded initial modest expectations, demonstrate that the international political will shown in Sarajevo still exists and should help the Pact get off the ground. There is still no sign, however, that the agency possesses the backing and political clout to pursue its broader political aims, namely to devise a common international response to the region, from Romania to Greece, and coordinate systematic reform.

In name, the Stability Pact is a long-term alternative to the patchwork of post-conflict measures with which the international community has responded to the last 10 years of Balkan wars. It is not, its architects underline, yet another implementing agency, like the alphabet soup of organizations active in Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere.

Rather it is an overarching political framework to co-ordinate and guide all those involved in bringing lasting peace to the Balkans. Its mandate is to stimulate "permanent, long-term measures" and develop a "shared strategy" for growth, stability and inter-ethnic harmony.

In the Stability Pact's tiny 28-person office in Brussels, spokesperson Andrew Levy likens the body to a "clearinghouse." "We don't have a big bureaucracy here," he insists. "We just coordinate everything, make sure the principles are being respected, the money flowing. We want to facilitate a division of labor, work behind the scenes when necessary."

The Pact models itself on the successful precedents of postwar Western Europe: the Marshall Plan, the European Community and the Helsinki Process. The key to stability is regional integration, the linking of peoples, economies and security interests.

Through incentives and negotiations, the Pact encourages bilateral and multilateral co-operation, bringing the participants into regional and international structures, including, one day, the European Union. A policy of preventive diplomacy will replace ad hoc crisis management.

But critics complain that so far the Pact has little to show for its efforts. Many doubt that Special Coordinator Bodo Hombach, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's former chief-of-staff, is the right man for the top job. His Balkan knowledge is scant and his management skills, it is said, are questionable. Nor is he a person familiar with the complex bureaucracy in Brussels.

Others wonder whether the European Union couldn't have better taken on the task. The European Commission and France, sceptical at first, were slow to get on the bandwagon. And an initiative led by a German based in Brussels inevitably dampens US enthusiasm.

An even deeper structural problem is whether Hombach's office has the necessary profile to referee the notorious turf wars between the international organizations, as well as between donor states, much less between rival Balkan countries.

The Pact presumes that a common European foreign and security policy already exists. Differences between member states on sanctions policy toward Serbia presented early obstacles. And it remains to be seen whether Hombach can squeeze the euros out of donors. Can he possibly be expected to get Paris to cough up funding for the OSCE Balkan missions or UN police forces in Kosovo? Or goad SFOR to arrest war criminals in Bosnia?

"The Pact is definitely a step in the right direction, but its conception is flawed," says Chris Bennett, director of the European Security Initative, a Berlin-based think tank. "It has no concrete tasking authority. Why should anyone do what the Stability Pact tells them to? It risks being just another bureaucratic tier."

Hombach is philosophical about his limited goals, "You takes things as far as you can, and when they won't go any further, you put off the rest until later."

One recent Pact victory was the settlement of the long-running dispute between Bulgaria and Romania over a new bridge across the Danube. A second Danube crossing would relieve the pressure of the single existing bridge - if only the two countries could agree where to put it. Under pressure from Hombach and the EU, Romania gave in. In return, it won a pledge that Sofia will no longer obstruct the exports of Romanian electricity to Greece.

The 5 million euro bridge is just one of the costly infrastructure projects recommended by the European Investment Bank, the EU's long-term financing bank, which received funding at the Brussels conference.

Most of the Stability Pact projects emphasize regional co-operation by involving two or more countries. The bridge, for example, is part of a larger project to build a 180 km section of European highway running from Istanbul and Thessaloniki through the Balkans to Germany.

The Pact's Brussels office insists that promoting democracy and building security are every bit as important as the high-profile infrastructure projects. At the donor conference, for example, funding was pledged for demobilizing troops in Bosnia, a landmine awareness campaign and a feasibility study for a regional television network.

But Reinhardt Weisshuhn, security expert for the German Green party, points out that two-thirds of the requested donor money will go toward infrastructure projects. The expensive flagship projects are wasted money, he says, unless democratic structures like a functioning legal system are in place. "I question the emphasis," he says. In Bosnia, he points out millions in investment funds were siphoned off illegally because of the lack of proper courts, laws and regulatory agencies.

At the Brussels conference, cash-strapped Montenegro received several grants while Serbia remained shut off from "serious money." The conference, however, stopped short of ICG's recommendation to give Montenegro further substantial balance of payments and general budgetary support.

In the short-term, the Brussels conference projects should give the Pact a badly needed shot of credibility on the ground in the Balkans - that is, if the projects really come through. But the Stability Pact must become more than a clearing house for infrastructure projects. In the long-term, should it fail to live up to its political vision, the international community could find itself with another bureaucratic albatross around its neck - and that is just what the Pact was not meant to be.

Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based journalist and author who has covered Central Europe and the Balkans for many years.

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