Brussels, 17 January 2000 - The first meeting of the Governing Board of the European Agency for Reconstruction of Kosovo is being held in Thessaloniki today. It will be chaired by Chris Patten, the Commissioner responsible for external relations. This Agency was set up at the request of the European Council to see that the reconstruction programmes in Kosovo are implemented rapidly and effectively. The Agency has its headquarters in Thessaloniki and its operational centre in Pristina. This puts it in direct contact with the local population and with the international organisations present on the ground. It is taking over from the European Commission's Task Force, which has been installed in Pristina since July 1999, where it has responded to the most urgent reconstruction needs and launched projects totalling €127 million.
Chris Patten said in his inaugural speech: "This is the start of a new phase in the Union's contribution to the reconstruction of Kosovo. The purpose of the Agency is clear: to give the Union the means of getting its assistance quickly and effectively on the spot and so to accomplish the task it was set, that of giving the inhabitants of Kosovo new life and new hope.
The Agency's task is to draw up, and submit to the Commission for adoption, programmes for reconstruction and for the return of refugees to Kosovo and to see that these programmes are carried out. The Agency may also look after the implementation of any reconstruction and refugee return programmes that the Member States and other donors may entrust to it.