Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
from the Rt Hon Chris Patten, Member of the European Commission
I was grateful for the chance to give evidence
to your Committee on 4 February. I am writing now to clarify a
couple of points, since the distorted accounts in the press of
Clare Short's evidence to you on the following day suggests that
there might be some misunderstanding.
First, decisions on the allocation of EU expenditure
on external actions are taken by the Council of Ministers, where
the British Government has every opportunity to influence the
outcome. The objective of increasing support for the poorest countries
is, rightly, a high priorityparticularly as we prepare
for the Monterrey conference on Financing for Development next
month. But that priority has to be balanced against the EU's external
policy goals, including poverty alleviation, in other parts of
the world. The Council recently agreed a number of indicative
allocations for the main geographical programmes in the Balkans,
the Mediterranean and Russia and the NIS covering the period to
2006. Similarly the Berlin European Council in May 1999 agreed
to ring-fence pre-accession support for the enlargement candidate
countries in a separate part of the budget where it cannot be
used for other purposes.
As a consequence of a Commission initiative,
Ministers will look again at the effectiveness of EU external
actions at a meeting of the General Affairs Council on 18 February.
But I do not expect any substantial shift in the balance of spending
already agreed by unanimity. As I have explained to the Committee,
we are starting to see the first results of our amibitious reform
of the management of EU external assistance. Your Committee may
be interested to see the attached progress report
that we have prepared for this meeting of the Council. With support
from the UK and other Member States. I am optimistic that we shall
achieve further significant improvements over the coming months.
Secondly, misunderstandings arise because the
British Government's internal accounting system classifies all
EU external spending as development assistance under DFID's budget.
This means that policies supported by the UK, such as EU efforts
to promote stability in the Balkans and help for the Palestinian
Authority, are included in UK calculations of development aid,
and then criticised for not being exclusively focused on poverty
alleviation. It would be more logical, perhaps, if such expenditure
was counted against the Foreign Office budget (as the department
responsible for the policy). At a stroke of the pen the Government
could thereby put an end to an anomaly that gives rise to real
Thirdly, it is often stated that the EU spends
a smaller proportion of its external assistance on the poorest
countries of the world than Member States' bilateral aid programmes.
This is the case because the Member States are able to devote
a larger share of their national spending to poverty alleviation
because they have decided that other, relatively expensive policies,
are best managed at EU level. If EU programmes for the Balkans,
the Mediterranean and the former Soviet Union did not exist, the
pattern of spending at national level would no doubt be very different.
I am copying this letter to Jack Straw and Clare
The Rt Hon Chris Patten, Member of the European Commission
12 February 2002
2 Not printed. Copy placed in the Library. Back