Civil society organisations in Kosovo have expressed concern that their future sustainability might be affected by Brussels’ decision to temporarily suspend funds provided under the European Commission’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, IPA until Pristina complies with the EU’s prescriptions for restoring stability in the country’s Serb-majority north.
Taulant Hoxha, executive director of the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation, KCSF NGO, which supports civil society development, told BIRN that such organisations’ funding could be affected “if these [EU] measures continue for months, and especially beyond 2023”.
Hoxha explained that “the natural cycle of IPA funds management is such that at least one to two years pass from programming to the practical implementation of funds”.
He said that the suspension of IPA 2024 funds, which the EU is threatening, would not affect already-funded civil society projects for this year and next year, but could affect NGOs’ work in 2025.
Kosovo has many civil society organisations – parliament’s website lists 84 – and they are highly dependent on EU, US and Swiss funds.
Zana Hoxha, the executive director of Artpolis, a human rights and arts NGO, told BIRN that the suspension of IPA funds by the EU might cause her organisation to reduce jobs or cut salaries by 30 to 40 per cent.
“We have been supported by IPA funds since 2008, for the promotion of women’s rights, youth engagement and art and culture, which is our mission,” she said.
She explained that financial resources for 2023 have been secured but the NGO planned to apply for IPA 2024 and if the funds were not available, it would make the organisation’s future uncertain.
She added that she believes that the suspension of IPA funds will cause “a general weakening of civil society organisations and civic engagement… The consequences will be difficult to repair.”
However, the director of BIRN Kosovo, Jeta Xharra, said she had received assurances on Tuesday that NGOs will not suffer as a result of the EU measures.
“I was in an online meeting today that the EU organised from Brussels on consultations on the IPA 2024 Multi-Country Programming Consultation with Civil Society in the Western Balkans and thankfully I was not the only one raising the concern that precisely because of the current tensions, there need to be more projects that encourage cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo, not less. This proposal came from a civil society activist in Serbia,” Xharra said.
“I also aired my thoughts on the matter, saying that punishing independent media and civil society for the actions of any government seems completely counterproductive as, in Kosovo especially media and civil society provide a regular critical counterpart to the government, scrutinising its actions, so weakening that resilience and criticism that the government faces every day from civil society and media would in fact have an opposite effect, it would make the life of the government much easier,” she added.
Xharra said that she asked if current and future funding for the civil society in Kosovo would be affected by EU measures against the Kosovo government, and was assured by the EU representatives that “no current or future multi-country projects for media and civil society would exclude Kosovo organisations. This is the situation as it stands.”
The EU is imposing measures to encourage Pristina to accept its prescriptions for defusing the tensions that flared up into violence recently in Serb-majority northern Kosovo.
Brussels is asking Pristina to immediately suspend police operations near municipal buildings in the north which have been the focus of unrest after police helped ethnic Albanian mayors elected in polls boycotted by Serbs to take office.
The EU wants the mayors to perform their duties in premises other than the municipal buildings, and for new elections to be held with the full participation of the Serbs.
“We cannot afford instability, tensions and violence. We have condemned the violence and continue calls for immediate de-escalation by both parties [Kosovo and Serbia],” an EU spokesperson told BIRN.
“Kosovo has regrettably not yet taken necessary steps,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said that the Kosovo authorities were informed on June 28 that measures including the suspension of the IPA funds were being imposed until the EU’s requests are fulfilled.
“These measures are temporary and fully reversible depending on the developments on the ground and decisions to de-escalate taken by the Prime Minister [Albin] Kurti,” the spokesperson added.
The EU spokesperson also said that in another measure imposed, proposals for funding submitted by Kosovo under the Western Balkans Investment Framework were not submitted for consideration by the WBIF board at the end of June.
From 2009 to 2021, the WBIF supported 30 infrastructure projects in Kosovo with a total cost of 1.8 billion euros.
Prime Minister Kurti has described the EU measures as “unjust”.
Kurti said that “we hope that these temporary measures will be very short” so that EU financial support can continue “and maybe even increase”.