Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Third Report


EXTERNALISATION OF THE MANAGEMENT OF COMMUNITY PROGRAMMES


(23023)
14613/01
COM(01) 648

Commission Communication on the management of Community programmes by networks of national agencies.


Legal base:
Document originated:13 November 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 15 November 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 3 January 2002
Department:HM Treasury
Basis of consideration: EM of 11 January 2002
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (22051) 5314/01: HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 5 (18 July 2001), HC 152-vii (2001-02), paragraph 4 (21 November 2001), and paragraph 5 above
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared




Background

  11.1  As part of its process of reform, the Commission set out in December 1999 to develop a coherent and manageable 'externalisation' policy. 'Externalisation' in this context means the carrying out of executive tasks implementing Community policies by bodies other than the Commission, whether these be Community public bodies, national authorities or the private sector. The 'externalisation' policy is being developed in order, amongst other things, to correct the aberrations caused by poor control of the various technical assistance offices.

  11.2  The objective is to allow the Commission's permanent staff to be assigned to its essential tasks, to regain control of executive and support activities and, overall, to improve efficiency.

  11.3  We considered a Communication and draft Council Regulation relating to the establishment of Community executive agencies on 18 July and 21 November 2001 and on 10 April 2002. The present document is concerned with the management of Community programmes by a network of national agencies designated by the Member States.

The document

  11.4  The Communication from the Commission describes three types of externalisation, namely "devolution" or the delegation of executive responsibilities to Community public bodies such as executive agencies (these being the subject of the proposed Council Regulation), "decentralising" or the delegation of executive responsibilities to national public bodies and "outsourcing" or the letting of contracts to the private sector. The Communication then describes the process of "decentralising" in detail.

  11.5  Decentralisation would be based on a network of agencies set up in Member States. The network would assist in running broad-based programmes, generally involving an element of co-financing, which the Commission could not manage using its own staff and which it would not be desirable to manage in an excessively centralised fashion, but where central authorities must still be able to intervene as necessary. Such collaboration with national partners would provide flexibility and allow local needs and situations to be taken into account.

  11.6  The kind of task undertaken would include contract and financial management, compilation and despatch to the Commission of information required for Community programmes and the preparation of recommendations to the Commission. The role of the national agency would be subject to strict rules and would allow no margin of discretion on the Community aspects of implementing the programme. In particular, the national agency would not take decisions on financing[23].

  11.7  For any given programme the instrument setting up the programme would provide, as necessary, for management by a network of national agencies. The Commission mentions the possibility of adopting a framework Regulation which would set out the general rules for management by national networks, but does not favour this approach in view of the difficulty of providing for sufficiently detailed rules to cover all possible cases.

  11.8  In addition, a Commission decision would set out the responsibilities of the Commission and of the Member States concerning national agencies and the general guidelines for implementing the programme in question. There would also be an operating agreement and decentralised measures agreement between the Commission and each national agency setting out the conditions under which Community funds would be made available and applied.

  11.9  The Commission considers that, in addition to education, training and youth matters, management by networks of national agencies could usefully be applied in relation to statistics and research as well as for "innovative measures" under the Structural Funds where activities might be transferred to public or semi-public regional bodies.

The Government's view

  11.10  In her Explanatory Memorandum of 11 January 2002, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly) describes the policy implications of the document as follows:

    "The Government will consider this proposal very carefully, in conjunction with the Commission's other proposals on the use of executive agencies and the wholesale revision of the Financial Regulation applicable to the general budget of the European Communities. The Government agrees with the need to overhaul the Commission's policy on externalisation. Generally, any proposals that have as their aim better financial and operational management of the implementation of Community policy are to be welcomed.

    "The use of networks of national agencies could provide a more cost-effective way of managing Community programmes and will, where existing agencies are used, take advantage of specialist national expertise. It will be important to ensure that the principles of financial management introduced as part of the Commission reforms are followed, both in the setting up and operation of the agencies. This would include the requirement for suitable audit provision. The UK has substantial experience in the use of agencies to carry out the tasks of government, and generally supports moves to delegate operational management of tasks, so long as appropriate levels of accountability, responsibility and performance management are maintained."

Conclusion

  11.11  We endorse the Minister's welcome to proposals which would improve the financial and operational management of the implementation of Community policy. We agree that the appropriate use of networks of national agencies could prove to be a more cost-effective way of managing Community programmes, by making use of national expertise and bringing the administration of Community policies closer to the citizen.

  11.12  Since the document contains no proposal for legislation, and does not appear to us to be advocating a policy which is in any way controversial, we are content to clear it.


23  The Communication does not apply to those operations (such as under the common agricultural policy, or the structural funds) where Member States have a shared responsibility with the Commission for implementing the budget.  Back


 
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