LONDON, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- A decision by European Bank for Reconstruction to admit Kosovo as a member will help speed its path to stabilization, European leaders said last weekend.
The EBRD's board of governors voted Friday in London to make Kosovo as its 66th member despite lingering concerns over its organized crime problems.
The bank -- established in 1991 to distribute development aid to the former communist countries of Eastern Europe as they transition to a market economy -- said the vote will open the door to financial assistance for the self-proclaimed republic and help its chances of future EU membership.
EBRD President Suma Chakrabarti said the decision to allow Kosovo to join was taken "without prejudice" to the positions of some individual members who don't recognize its independent status.
"The EBRD will be delighted to be able to address Kosovo's needs," he said. "The bank will work to develop the private sector as well as investing in infrastructure improvements and will help to strengthen the economy more generally. This will benefit all people living in Kosovo."
Once it has become a member, he said, the bank will "seek to support Kosovo's economy and improve the lives of the people there, facilitate transition and contribute to regional stability."
The move was met with approval from the European Commission. Olli Rehn, European vice president for economic and monetary affairs, and EU Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule praised the move as an important one for Kosovo's future.
"This will allow Kosovo to benefit from greater financing and will contribute to promoting Kosovo's socio-economic development," they said in a statement issued Saturday. "This is another step that will help Kosovo tackle the challenges on its European path."
Britain also praised the decision.
"EBRD membership will help Kosovo in its efforts to achieve greater socio-economic development, prosperity and stability for all its citizens," British Minister for Europe David Lidington said.
"This is the latest example of Kosovo's progress towards becoming fully integrated into the international community. The U.K. will remain strong supporters of Kosovo's efforts toward this goal."
Two-thirds of the EBRD's members -- some 39 countries -- needed to approve the Kosovo move but only 38 of its members have recognized the former Serbian province's independence, meaning at least one member that hadn't was required for the successful vote, the Pristina news website Telegrafi.com reported.
Government sources told the website Kosovo had satisfied two of the main criteria to join -- previous recognition by ERBD shareholders the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the support of the bank's largest national backers.
The European Union has in the past said Kosovo's path to integration into Europe depends on significant reforms, including the need to tackle organized crime and corruption.
"It will be crucial for Kosovo to make progress on key reforms, particularly related to the rule of law," Fule said in March.
The European Court of Auditors, however, said in October that little progress in that regard has been made despite longstanding efforts by the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo to do so, the Brussels weekly European Voice reported.
The auditors said organized crime and corruption remain high in Kosovo with authorities seemingly reluctant to tackle it. They found that less than half of the Eulex recommendations to fight crime had been accepted and contended the country is governed by a "predatory elite" who use corruption to fund a patronage system.