Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirteenth Report


COM(01) 96

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Programme for Action: Accelerated action on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in the context of poverty reduction.
Legal base:
Department: International Development
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 25 April 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-xi (2000-01), paragraph 8 (4 April 2001)
To be discussed in Council: May 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  13.1  The Commission says that its Programme of Action on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, is designed to establish "a broad and coherent Community response, over the period 2001-2006, to the global emergency caused by the three major communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which most affect the poorest populations and which undermine global health". It intends to focus on three areas of activity:

  • optimising the impact of existing health, AIDS and population interventions, services and commodities;

  • increasing the affordability of key pharmaceuticals; and

  •  increasing investment in research and development.

  13.2  When we considered the document on 4 April, we welcomed this ambitious programme but had several concerns on which we invited the Secretary of State for International Development (the Rt. Hon. Clare Short) to comment. She does so in a letter dated 25 April.

The Minister's letter

  13.3  The Minister has responded fully to our questions. We reproduce her answer below as it is also relevant to the work of the Commission on its management of external assistance generally. The Minister says:

    "Firstly the Committee queried what action should be taken to ensure that the Commission devotes sufficient resources to the Programme of Action. The Committee highlighted that although the Programme of Action envisages reinforcing and training Commission staff in the Commission's overseas delegations, the Programme does not mention reinforcing staff in Brussels.

    "As you may be aware, a key part of the reform of the management of external assistance is the deconcentration[17] of approximately 700 Commission personnel to its overseas delegations. This should increase the responsiveness of the Commission's assistance to the needs of target populations and should improve the quality and speed of delivery. The reinforcing and training of staff in delegations is therefore vital to the success of deconcentration and a high priority for the Commission. Reinforcing the number of staff in Brussels runs counter to this process. It is vital, however, that staff, both in Brussels and in delegations have the right mix of qualifications and experience. We will continue to work with the Commission to ensure this occurs, by, for example, recruiting qualified contract staff and seconding UK personnel to the Commission. We currently have two Detached National Experts in the health division of DG Development.

    "Deconcentration will also enhance opportunities for on the spot collaboration and co-ordination between the Commission and other donors enabling a more effective use of Community funds and more efficient division of labour with other donors."

    "A related query, raised by the Committee, concerns whether the Commission has the capacity to re-order its priorities in line with the Programme of Action without disrupting current work. This is an understandable concern. However, the Programme does not represent a major shift in Commission priorities. Instead it calls for more focused activities and strategic contributions. The more strategic approach called for by the Programme of Action will be less labour intensive than the technical inputs currently required. In addition the burden of implementation will be shared by DGs Development, Trade and Research.

    "The Committee also highlighted the need for the Commission to focus and prioritise its work and asked what activities the Government thought the Commission should focus on. The UK supports the need for the comprehensive approach in the Programme of Action but has indicated to the Commission that the following areas of the Programme of Action are high priorities:

      '3.1.1 [Optimising the impact of Health, AIDS and Population interventions targeted at major communicable diseases and poverty reduction]

      'Increasing coverage and impact of existing EC interventions is essential, in addition to supporting the introduction of innovative methods where appropriate and of proven value;

      '3.2.1. [Tiered pricing]

      'The EC is an important partner in the establishment and implementation of an effective global tiered pricing system for the benefit of affected developing countries;

      '3.3.3 [Incentives for the development of specific global public goods]

      'The EC's contribution to strengthening international collaboration and developing in-country capacity for research and development will be valuable.

      '3.4 [Participation in global partnerships: policy and political dialogue]

      'We strongly recommend that the EC continue to participate with global partners to develop new approaches for large scale and more efficient resource transfers to developing countries, and to consider possibilities for contributing to it.'

    "Indications from Commission working group discussions are that other Member States will support the UK in pushing the Commission to focus and prioritise its work and will be broadly supportive of these priorities.

    "Finally, the Committee asked what practical steps should be undertaken to strengthen health systems in developing countries. Strengthening health systems is a complex task which requires sustained, long term support and investment. It requires, in the first instance, developing country Governments to take a lead to put strong health systems at the centre of their social sector policies. Donors can assist this process and help bring about increased budgetary allocations for health systems through support for Poverty Reduction Strategy Processes (PRSPs) and Sector-wide Programmes (SWAPs). Support for partner countries' efforts to improve financial management, accountability, and planning capacity will also result in stronger health systems. In addition, donors can assist partner governments with efforts to better integrate services and improve human resource management, training and development, including through appropriate incentive structures for staff."


  13.4  We thank the Secretary of State for her informative response and note the active and constructive approach taken by the Government towards assisting the Commission to improve its performance in this area.

  13.5  We are not entirely convinced that the very small team at the Commission, headed by Dr. Fransen, though of high quality, is sufficient in the short term and we look forward to the Secretary of State's response to the International Development Committee's report on HIV/AIDS: the impact on social and economic development, published on 29 March,[18] which calls for an increase in the number of HIV/AIDS experts in Brussels. We urge the Government to continue to monitor the Commission's ability to deliver this programme effectively so that it is not hampered by lack of resources and expertise in key positions.

  13.6  We now clear the document.

17  The Commission's policy of deconcentration is to devolve more responsibility for the management of projects to its delegations abroad.  Back

18  Third Report from the International Development Committee, HC 354-I (2000-01), paragraph 245. Back

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