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EU development money failed to reach minorities in the Western Balkans during the last decade

29 November 2010

A large part of EU development financial assistance missed targets in the Western Balkans as governments failed to monitor the use of those funds spent on minority communities, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today in a new report.

Marking the midterm of the current development spending, the human rights NGO calls on the EU to create a more detailed and stricter regime for governments regarding EU-financed programmes.

Since the early 1990s, the EU has been the largest donor to the Western Balkans. It has exerted considerable influence on its legal, political and social environment not least since these countries strive to become member states. The report assesses the EU's two principal development programmes, the CARDS and the IPA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo [under UNSCR 1244].

Areas such as the partnership of civil society and local governments, the reform of police and judiciary as well as employment, education and social inclusion are considered in the minority-focused study.

"The EU's commitment to minorities in the region has long been in place, but a profound, positive impact on the lives of people from minority communities can yet hardly be perceived," says Neil Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia Programmes. "Do minorities remain a buzzword for projects or will the representation of their issues eventually become fact?"

Based on the findings of the report, the desired outcomes of projects remain occasional. Up to now, minority-specific objectives, activities or indicators have rarely been requested by the financing authorities, and there are no disaggregated data measuring the situation faced by minorities in the region. It is also noticeable for most countries that objectives remain unchanged in consecutive strategic documents, evidence that lessons learnt in previous periods do not lead to re-evaluations of progress so far.

"Strategic documents do flag up minority issues but seemingly, they use a 'cut-and-paste-approach' as the same formulations appear over and over again," adds Clarke.

The report however also identifies good examples among relevant programmes. In Macedonia, for example, a 2007 project to support public administration reform designated 10 per cent of the budget to the inclusion of minority and vulnerable groups and stipulated methods to measure progress. At the same time, Roma, Serbs, Turks and Vlachs have been politically marginalized and find it difficult to participate in civil society consultations with the Macedonian government.

Minority interests can be played down because consultation processes with civil society groups are ad hoc in the region and based primarily on personal contacts rather than institutionalised procedures, says the report. In Serbia, for example, minority civil society organisations (CSOs) were not sufficiently represented in consultation meetings, and there was little evidence of their input being reflected in the strategic documents.

"To overstep local procedural limitations, it is of utmost importance for minority CSOs to be engaged with the European Commission in Brussels," says Gordana Cicak, Executive Director, Independent, a human rights group MRG partners with in Bosnia Herzegovina. ‘We have to create a platform to be able to engage with EU officials and to lobby them directly for the inclusion of our interests."

According to the report, minority CSOs rarely obtain money through applications for EU funds. Minority organisations are often smaller and institutionally and financially weaker. In order for them to be able to get involved in the programmes, calls need to be adapted to organisations with smaller resources and capacity while acknowledging the fact that they are often closer to communities and events on the ground.

Shifting from channelling humanitarian aid to encompass the consolidation of democracy in the region, the EU launched its Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation (CARDS) programme between 2002-2006, and the currently ongoing Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) programme between 2007-2013. The EU early on declared that minority communities are a priority to ensure long-term democratic stabilization and the consolidation of the civil society in the region.

Notes to the editor

  • MRG's regional office, MRG Europe in Budapest, Hungary conducted a 5-year programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo in order to support local NGOs on the promotion and protection of minority rights in the pre-accession process.
  • Independent, is a leading human rights institute based in Zenica, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • EU Financial Assistance to the Western Balkans: A minority-focused review of CARDS and IPA will be available on from 29 November 2010.
  • The study is a follow up to “Pushing for Change?”, produced within the same programme in 2008, focusing on EU Progress Reports and minority issues.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.

Interview opportunities with:

  • Neil Clarke, MRG`s Head of Europe and Central Asia Programmes, MRG Budapest.
  • Gordana Cicak, Executive Director, Independent, Bosnia Herzegovina.

For further information, copies of the report or to arrange interviews contact MRG’s Media Officer:

MRG Press Office in London – Farah Mihlar
M: +44 7870596863
Contact target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>the MRG Press Office

MRG Press Office in Budapest – Bernadett Sebály
M: +36 70 217 2601
T: +36 1 327 7038
Contact target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>the MRG Press Office