Select Committee on European Scrutiny Ninth Report



Special Report No. 11/2001 by the Court of Auditors concerning the Tacis cross-border co-operation programme.
Legal base:
Document originated: 27 July 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 12 October 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 7 November 2001
Department: International Development
Basis of consideration: EM of 29 November 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


  20.1  The Tacis Cross-Border Co-operation (CBC) Programme was established in 1996 with the aim of reducing differences in living standards between the western border regions of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova and those in neighbouring countries. It seeks to encourage co-operation between regional authorities on either side of the border and to support projects with a cross-border impact.

The report

  20.2  The European Court of Auditors carried out its audit of the operation of the Programme over the period 1996-2000. The report concludes that whilst the Programme has the potential to address important needs, it has had little impact so far on improving living standards in beneficiary regions or on cross-border co-operation. It highlights some reasons for this including:

  • serious delays in programming funds for the Small Project Facility (SPF) and in assisting regional authorities to increase their management capacity. Implementation procedures have been too centralised. However, overall, projects financed from the SPF yielded the most cost-effective results;

  • difficulties in obtaining bids within tender budgets for works contracts;

  • equipment had sometimes been supplied after the end of the scheduled duration of projects because of the Commission's lengthy procurement procedures and delays in customs clearance in the beneficiary countries;

  • obtaining exemption from value added tax has been a major problem for projects; and

  • most environmental projects suffered from a lack of follow-up investments, whether from Tacis or other sources.

  20.3  It proposes a number of measures to address these problems, namely:

(1)  The strengthening of co-ordination mechanisms between this programme and the EC's programmes which cover bordering countries, the Interreg and PHARE Programmes;

(2)  An increase in the Programme's budget and the availability of matching finance for bordering regions in the PHARE countries;

(3)  A greater emphasis on infrastructure and investment support;

(4)  Greater priority to be given to projects which directly contribute to increased living standards in the eligible regions;

(5)  Support for the participation of local and regional authorities in the Programme; and

(6)  A higher proportion of funds to be allocated to the SPF with a decentralisation of its management.

The Commission's response

  20.4  The Commission acknowledges that the Tacis CBC budget is limited. It was reduced from _30 million in 1998 to _20 million in 1999 when there was a cut in the overall Tacis budget but now has a larger share of the total. The need to address the exceptional situation in the Caucasus after the Russian crisis in 1998 and to contribute to the Chernobyl Shelter funds also played a part. New procedures delayed the first years of the SPF but it is now catching up.

  20.5  Measures have been introduced to improve co-ordination between the Tacis CBC, INTERREG and PHARE programmes. The border crossing projects contribute substantially, according to the Commission, to improving living conditions. One example is the western border of Ukraine, where Western European companies produce textiles, furniture and shoes. They depend on fast crossings and give employment to the local population. The results of the programme only started to be seen in early 2001, when two crossings were completed. Two more will be completed in 2001, a further two in 2002 and construction on an additional two will start in late 2001.

  20.6  Finally, the Commission says that it intends to increase the SPF budget from 2001.

The Government's view

  20.7  The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short) says that the Government welcomes this report but comments:

"We were disappointed to note the limited impact of activities to date particularly on the Programme's main objective of improving living standards. We support the majority of the measures proposed by the Court to increase the Programme's efficiency and effectiveness. In particular, we welcome the intention for greater co-operation, both within the Commission and with regional partners, and we are encouraging the Commission to develop practical measures to address this issue. We do not however feel the time is right to increase the budget for the programme when impact has, to date, been so limited. We also feel the Commission should focus on improving coordination internally rather than addressing weaknesses through a new Regulation with its own budget line — the development of new Regulations is usually very time consuming.

"More generally, we welcome the Court's recommendation for the Programme to give greater priority to projects that improve the living standards of the population in the target regions. We are encouraging the Commission to focus more substantially on the Ukraine/Poland border where there are greater economic development opportunities, and away from the Russia/Finnish border".

  20.8  The Minister adds that she expects the report to be the subject of Council Conclusions in due course.

  20.9  The Commission's annual report on The Implementation of the European Commission External Assistance[47] includes an analysis of the Tacis programme as a whole. It includes the following two paragraphs on the CBC programme:

"In 2000, Tacis support for environment on the EU/candidate countries [borders] was substantial: implementation was on-going in 14 projects, totalling _35 million. The main emphasis was on water resource management and the control of water quality. Tacis provided support to most of the major waterways in the border region, including work on the Paz, Prut, Bug and Danube rivers. This includes the improvement of monitoring capacity, introduction of guidelines and regulations for water quality control, and setting down what infrastructure is necessary.

"In addition, two projects in Karelia concentrated on the development of eco-tourism. The management of the Karelia National Parks was strengthened and new improved infrastructure is being built.

"Some existing border crossings permit only bilateral traffic. The EU is opening up new international border crossings to encourage more trade.... This is no mean undertaking. Some crossing points are huge. One example is Salla, where just the administrative-operational building set up for customs and border controls or cars, buses and lorries covers an area of 1,020m2. There are also canopies covering control booths for all lanes, a building for detailed vehicle inspection with storage area of 450m2, not to mention truck weighing posts, dog kennels and a fully secure perimeter fence with controlled entry and exit points."


  20.10  While the annual budget for this programme, at _20- 30 million, is small, the programme is of political importance to Member States because the region will form the new eastern border of the EU after accession. It is clear from the report that some of the problems could be addressed without the need for a bigger budget and a new Regulation. We therefore support the Government's view. However, if the other measures proposed prove ineffective, we do not rule out the need to consider directing more funds to the programme when it is next reviewed.

  20.11  We now clear this document.

47  (22903) 13744/01; see paragraph 9 of this Report. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 18 December 2001