On 30 November DFID closed its office in Kosovo. This is DFID’s last bilateral programme in Europe and hence it is a symbolic moment for the UK’s relations with the countries of the former eastern bloc. It is also evidence of how DFID’s assistance is changing.
The UK commenced assistance to the former communist countries of Europe in 1989. It has since operated programmes in central and eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia to build the foundations of democratic societies and free markets, helping improve living standards for millions of people.
While much remains to be done, progress has been undeniable. The World Bank estimates that between 1998 and 2003, for example, 40 million people in the region left extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $2 per day) as a result of rapid growth and narrowing inequality. Twenty-three years after the fall of the Berlin wall, 12 former communist countries are our trading partners in the European Union, democratic elections are the norm, and many countries which previously received aid are now donors themselves.
The UK has progressively reduced its aid programme in response to this progress. Assistance for 10 central European and Baltic countries ended when they joined the EU in 2004. Assistance to Romania and Bulgaria ended on their accession in 2007, and programmes were closed in Albania in 2008 and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Serbia in early 2011.
We are therefore at the end of a significant period, in which the UK can be proud of its contribution. In future, DFID’s engagement will be through the multilateral system, which we believe is now better placed to respond to the region’s emerging needs.
We will work with the European Union to ensure their assistance through the instrument for pre-accession (IPA) and European neighbourhood partnership instrument (ENPI) is focused on appropriate priorities, monitorable results, and value for money. We believe these instruments can be made significantly more effective.
We will use our position on the boards of the World Bank and IMF, the European Bank for reconstruction and development and the European Investment Bank to promote high-quality investments in infrastructure and private sector development, where significant needs remain.
Finally, we recognise that in some regions, particularly the western Balkans, the threat of conflict remains. We will continue to contribute to the UK conflict prevention pool alongside the FCO and MOD. The CPP has allocated £16 million for programmes in wider Europe this financial year, which will support projects in areas such as security sector reform, rule of law, training for peacekeepers and support for political settlements.