As the development cooperation projects have been extended to the north, the Government of Finland is also promoting the Brussel's Agreement, objective of which is to normalize the relations between Kosovo and Serbia. An important part of this agreement is to bring the governance of the northern municipalities under the central administration of Kosovo. These projects are considered as a new way to foster the relations between South and North Kosovo and create new possibilities for future cooperation.
At the end of June the Embassy of Finland and the United Nations agencies held a round table discussion and a press conference in the municipality of North Mitrovica. Both the challenges and benefits of the projects' extension were discussed. The Head of Mission of the Embassy of Finland Anne Meskanen, as well as the representatives of the UN organisations Flora Macula (UN Women), Andrew Russell (UNDP), Laila Omar Gad (UNICEF) and Aleksandar Nikolovski (FAO) presented their viewpoints during the meeting. After the press conference, participants met with the mayors of the four municipalities and discussed the modalities of future cooperation.
The round table discussions tackled the issue of gender-based and domestic violence and analyzed the present situation in the Northern Kosovo. The inefficiency of the Kosovo's judicial system and its inability to handle legal cases was considered to be one of the major problems in terms of domestic violence. As a consequence, citizens have lost their trust in judicial procedures. Additionally, cooperation between different actors and institutions is considered to be insufficient. The participants suggested that education and dissolution of patriarchal structures would be the key to prevent gender-based and domestic violence. Furthermore, awareness of the problem among the health care professionals and other local authorities should be raised and the availability of social and family services should be improved. This would also increase the local capabilities to tackle social problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse. However, all the participants agreed that the most important thing is to provide the victims with physical help and mental support and well as the immediate protection they need. To secure this, a refuge will be built on the area and an emergency telephone service will be opened.
Participants also discussed the issue of developing the private sector as the goal is to increase both the employment rate as well as the income level. The labour market situation in the Northern Kosovo is desolate, and women and young people are the ones most vulnerable. On the other hand, the situation is difficult for the middle aged people as well. However, it has to be noted that a number of people have an unreported or part-time employment and therefore it is difficult to know what the actual labour market situation in the area is. Also, the new enterprises established are often left unregistered. Nevertheless, the creation of new jobs has been difficult. As the political situation in the area remains unstable, new investors or companies do not find the area attractive. Therefore, self-employment has been considered as an alternative for the private sector job creation, and people have been supported to employ themselves.
The largest employer in the region has traditionally been the Trepca mine. However, because of the controversial status of the mine, employment opportunities have been decimated even further. Additionally, the skills of the job seekers and the labour market needs are often in an asymmetry. Brain drain is another issue hindering development as better opportunities in Serbia and in other parts of the country tempt the highly educated to move out of the region. The cooperation between the vocational schools and labour markets should be enhanced and similarly, the functions of the employment offices should be strengthened.
Participants saw agriculture as the most significant employer in the northern parts of the country. However, the arable land area is limited and therefore it is important to support also other branches of industry. For example, forestry and animal husbandry are two sectors considered to have growth potential, albeit the management of forests must be strengthened and actions of forests protection are needed outright. Alternatively, the trade of agricultural products is one of the potential sources of income in the urban areas; especially the growth potential of the trade of medical herbs was recognized. Participants reckon that there is a demand for the agricultural products but the sales and marketing expertise of the farmers have major shortcomings. Furthermore, the private sector operations need clear rules and strategies.
Additionally, to operate efficiently and sustainably, the project funders should strengthen their communication and cooperation between each other and with the local authorities.
After all, the enlargement of the projects in the Northern Kosovo is an important mean of promoting the unity of the administration and, on the other hand, areal cohesion. In the long term, these projects promote ethnic and gender equality as well as stability and economic development of Kosovo.