The ability to participate in EU projects will bring Kosovo closer to European integration.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 24/10/12
Community programmes cover topics such as health and innovation. [EU]
Kosovo will start negotiations with the EU to participate in the Union's community programmes after the Council of Ministers greenlighted the European Commission (EC) to open talks on a framework agreement with the country last week.
After the agreement is signed and specific conditions are agreed, "Kosovo will have the right to participate in all the EU programmes which are open, or will be opened in the future, for the Western Balkans," Kosovo Minister for Integration Vlora Citaku told SETimes.
The programmes are designed to help countries become familiar with EU methods and policies, and in the case of the Western Balkans, is part of their European perspective.
"Access to the EU programmes will bring Kosovo citizens closer to the European project, will support the achievement of the joint European aims and will create direct contacts between the citizens and the institutions of the EU and Kosovo," Citaku said.
Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia all have access to the EU programmes.
The community programmes cover topics such as culture, education, health, youth and innovation.
Serbia has now full participation in the CIP Community programme on competitiveness and innovation, the Seventh Framework Research Programme, the Progress programme for employment and social solidarity, and the Tempus programme, which covers higher education.
Macedonia participates in Culture, Europe for Citizens, Fiscalis, Progress, Youth in Action, Lifelong Learning, Customs and the Seventh Framework Research Programme.
Fatmir Curri, European Integration Programme co-ordinator at the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation, said Kosovo should catch the rest of the region and "narrow the gap" in programme participation.
However, he warned, "The participation in them should not create any illusions that the relations between Kosovo and the EU have gone into the contractual phase," Curri told SETimes, noting that five EU member states have not recognised Kosovo.
According to the EU, the participation is based on the needs and priorities of each country.
Curri said one of the greatest benefits of the programmes will be co-operation with the EU.
Kosovo's participation will create chances for citizens to access the EU-funded projects and activities, it will help to raise the capacities of the civil society and the municipalities and will also assist their networking with regional and EU partners.
But it will come at a cost. "Kosovo will be asked to participate and allocate finances, because the participation is not free," Curri said.
For each programme, the EC and each country "decide the arrangements and conditions for participation, including the financial contribution to be made by the country to the EU's general budget," the Union said.
The financial contribution is based on the needs of each country, and the countries can receive support for their financial contribution through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) or any other external aid for which they might be eligible.
All the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Turkey have access to IPA funds. IPA funded projects are usually regional, cross-border, inter-state or international.
The assistance has five components: support during the transition and building of institutions, cross border co-operation, regional development, human resources development and rural development.
IPA funds for Kosovo, for 2011-2013, will be geared toward the rule of law, public administration reform and economic development.
Gjakova, a municipality in western Kosovo, has benefited from the funds, which have been used for school renovations, road infrastructure and an ongoing cross-border co-operation project. "These projects are a great assistance for us and help a lot to improve the quality of life of our citizens," Mayor Pal Lekaj told SETimes.