EC CONTRIBUTION TO UNRWA'S BUDGET FOR
Draft Council Decision authorising the Commission to negotiate a convention between the EC and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) concerning the Community contribution to the budget of UNRWA for 20022005.
|Legal base:||Articles 181 and 300 EC; qualified majority voting
|Document originated:||13 February 2002
|Forwarded to the Council:||14 February 2002
|Deposited in Parliament:||7 March 2002
|Basis of consideration:||EM and Minister's letter of 14 March 2002
|Previous Committee Report:||None
|Discussed in Council:||18 March 2002
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
22.1 The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is responsible for providing
basic health, education, and social services to 3.9 million Palestinian
refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
22.2 The Commission notes that the continuing violence
and the strict restrictions applied by the Israeli authorities
to the movement of Palestinian people and goods in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip continue to have a severe impact on the Palestinian
economy, and on the income of many people. This is causing great
hardship, with the poorest communities, often those in refugee
camps, the hardest hit. UNRWA's limited resources are under extreme
pressure as it seeks to continue to provide essential relief services,
as well as maintain its regular programme. The latter, financed
under the General Fund, includes UNRWA's regular programmes covering
education, health, and relief and social services.
22.3 Since 1972, the EC and UNRWA have signed ten conventions.
The new Convention will cover a four-year period and will be implemented
by two agreements of two years each, with annual negotiations
for the contribution to the food aid budget. For 2002, UNRWA has
requested a contribution to its General Fund of _55 million and
a subsequent increase of 5 % in each of the following years. This
amounts to _55 million in 2002, _57.8 million in 2003, _60.6 million
in 2004, and _63.7 million in 2005. These figures are based on
the contributions agreed in the tenth Convention, with the increase
added in response to population growth, inflation, and the need
to provide additional services to meet long-term demands as a
result of the continuing crisis.
22.4 The Commission comments:
"The last few years have witnessed growing concern among
the refugee community and in the region generally over the decline
in UNRWA services (US$ 200 per capita in the 1970s compared to
US$70 in the 1990s). Successive funding shortages and subsequent
austerity measures and cost reductions have prevented programmes
from expanding at a rate commensurate with the growth in the refugee
population, necessitated curtailments in ongoing programme activities,
and precluded certain actions which normally would be part of
UNRWA's regular programme of work. Most seriously, these measures
have led to increased class sizes in UNRWA schools, rising patient/staff
ratios in the health services, and higher caseloads for social
workers dealing with the poorest refugees.
"The ability of the Agency to provide its services is entirely
dependent on sufficient voluntary contributions made available
annually. The Convention, therefore, aims to assist UNRWA to secure
its financial basis to operate on a sustainable and cost-effective
basis, without recourse to austerity or other ad hoc cost
reduction measures, and to safeguard the quality and level of
services provided to the refugees. The present minimal level of
service provision must not be allowed to further deteriorate in
the interest of stability in the region".
22.5 Under the Education Programme, UNRWA provides education
to over 475,000 pupils, an increase of more than 30,000 since
the tenth Convention came into force. It also provides educational
services to over 6,000 trainees at the eight vocational training
centres and the three science faculties in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon,
the West Bank and Gaza.
22.6 The Health Programme is community-based, with the
emphasis placed on primary healthcare and with very selective
use of hospital services. Two thirds of the refugee population
consists of women of reproductive age and children under 15 years
of age, making mother and child care, including family planning
services, a priority area. Staff/population ratios are far below
the current ratios in all host countries and the territory of
the Palestinian Authority.
22.7 The Relief and Social Services aim to ensure a minimum
standard of nutrition and shelter. This programme also facilitates
longer-term social and economic development for refugees and their
communities. The Social Services encourage self-reliance.
The Government's view
22.8 The Secretary of State for International Development
(Clare Short) says that a key issue this year will be to seek
ways to address the perennial funding gap between UNRWA's agreed
General Fund budget and voluntary contributions. Although the
gap in 2001 was the lowest for ten years, there is still some
way to go to give UNRWA improved financial planning security.
"The ability of UNRWA to provide its services is entirely
dependent on sufficient contributions made annually. The proposed
Convention aims to assist UNRWA to secure its financial basis
to operate on a sustainable and cost-effective basis, without
implementation of ad-hoc cost reduction measures, and to
safeguard the quality and level of services provided to the refugees.
This fully complements UK policy. We aim to build on our positively
received lobbying exercise at the end of last year, which focussed
on better financial planning security, and explore further with
UNRWA and like-minded donors how we can consolidate these gains,
in order to avoid future funding gaps."
22.9 She adds:
"UNRWA has continued its on-going reform initiatives across
the broad spectrum of its operations with donor support. Measures
to confirm support would strengthen the international community's
partnership with UNRWA, and demonstrate that, as they continue
the process to deliver services more effectively and efficiently,
we are prepared to support them."
The Minister's letter
22.10 In a letter accompanying her Explanatory Memorandum,
the Secretary of State apologises that the Government decided
to support the adoption of this Council Decision before we had
had an opportunity to scrutinise it and explains the circumstances.
"The document, scheduled for approval at the 11 March General
Affairs Council, only reached the relevant department on 8 March.
We informed the Presidency and Commission that we would not be
able to allow the Council to adopt the decision on 11 March as
we wanted to be able to present the proposal first to Parliament.
However, we accepted that agreement on the document was urgent
in order to allow rapid conclusion of the funding agreement with
UNRWA and the Government has decided that we should allow the
Council to adopt this Decision on 18 March.
"The Explanatory Memorandum explains that this Council Decision
is not contentious for three reasons. First it is for approval
of a negotiating mandate, not for the agreement itself. Second
it is entirely in line with existing policy and is in fact for
the eleventh in a series of conventions. And third, the Committee
will of course have an opportunity to carry out Parliamentary
scrutiny on the draft Convention itself as soon as it becomes
available. We expect this to be within the next few weeks.
"I do apologise for the delay in bringing this to the Committee's
attention. It was caused by a bureaucratic error, which we are
taking measures to ensure does not happen again, exacerbated by
the Presidency unexpectedly accelerating their timetable. We will
ensure early submission of an Explanatory Memorandum on the draft
convention itself as soon as it is available.
"I am writing separately regarding your questions on document
22.11 The document to which the Secretary of State
refers above, in the last sentence quoted from her letter, was
a proposal that the EC should make an additional contribution
of _15 million towards a deficit in UNRWA's 2001 budget. When
we considered that document, we asked her to clarify what had
happened and to tell us what steps could be taken to try to ensure
that the budget deficit of UNRWA does not remain a perennial problem.
We continue to hold that document under scrutiny, although the
proposal was adopted on 19 December, weeks before the document
was deposited. The Secretary of State apologised for that failure
22.12 On this occasion, the Secretary of State says
that the Department is taking measures to ensure that the bureaucratic
failure, which resulted in this document also being deposited
late, does not happen again. We intend to raise with the Cabinet
Office the problem for effective scrutiny caused by the late deposit
of documents, which happens all too frequently.
22.13 We thank the Secretary of State for her explanation
and look forward to receiving her further letter on UNRWA's budget
22.14 We now clear this document.
14773/01; see HC 152-xix (2001-02), paragraph 9 (13 February 2002). Back