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Macedonia: EC Aid Under Fire

Independent report damns misuse of European aid for Balkans
By Svetlana Jovanovska

European Commission aid to Macedonia and Albania over the last decade has been inefficient, badly coordinated and hampered by bureaucracy, a report by a group of experts published in the region last week revealed.


The French and Italian experts, members of an independent consultancy charged by the EC to monitor its works, said the 1.5 billion euros the neighbouring Balkan states received from the EC between 1991 and 2001 did not contribute to the building of a civic society or stop corruption.


"In regard to Macedonia, which received about 500 million euros in the past decade," it said, "the commission ignored the necessity to create institutions whereby different ethnic groups would have come closer together."


The report notes that just 58 per cent of the funds went on specific projects and that only 34 per cent of the total was actually spent.


It singled out the fact that money given towards road building in Macedonia, for example, did not go towards the most efficient or the cheapest companies.


The report recommends paying closer attention to domestic development in the two states and to the phased harmonisation of their legal and institutional systems with European Union norms.


Gunner Wiegand, spokesman for the EC's external relations commissioner, Christopher Patten, said the body was aware of its failures, which is why it ordered the report in the first place.


"We know that there are problems," he said, "we don't hide that and we opted for transparency." But he added, "We do not agree with all the criticisms directed at us...most of the structural mistakes...have been solved."


Addressing complaints of corruption, he said they were "working on specific programmes in the area of justice and internal affairs for improvement of border management, control of public procurements and reform of the public administration".


Wiegand said blame for existing failings could not all be laid at the door of the EC but rested also with the states receiving aid. "Through our programmes we respond to the political will of these countries, as well as to the political will of the EU member countries for getting the Balkans closer to the EU," he said.


Patten himself wrote a letter to the Financial Times, after it reported the experts' conclusions last December, defending the commission's programmes in Macedonia and Albania. "Better allocation, much better allocation of the funds is our goal everywhere," he wrote.


Macedonian experts, meanwhile, differ sharply on the way that EC money was spent and who is to blame for the failures noted in the report.


Almost all of them agree that the money was spent inappropriately, but some - especially those linked to the government - say the Macedonian authorities had little influence on the way the funds were allocated and insist commission representatives had the last word.


Abdulmnaf Bexheti, an economist from the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, and a former minister for development, said the European representatives did not listen to the Macedonian authorities before deciding how to spend the money.


"This should be taken as a lesson for the EU and the international community," he said. "When a country is offered assistance, the country in question should determine the priorities. "


Bexheti said often there was no coordination between Macedonian and European representatives, who decided what would be financed.


"Maybe a portion of the funds was inappropriately allocated. But they were managed by the EU," he said. "If we had been given greater freedom, the money would have been allocated more appropriately."


Other economists take a very different view. Petar Gosev, an opposition deputy, says the Macedonian authorities had no development strategy and thus no idea how and where to target the flow of funds.


As a result, he said, the Europeans could not direct the money in the right direction, "No matter what efforts they made, without a strategy they could have no effect."


Gosev additionally claims that the EU representatives knew all about the massive corruption in the country. "They know that their money was spent inefficiently," he said.


The office of the commission's permanent representative in Macedonia did not want to comment on the report.


Svetlana Jovanovska is the Brussels correspondent for Skopje's daily Dnevnik. Gordana Icevska works for the weekly Kapital in Skopje.