Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Chairman of the Committee from the Rt Hon Chris Patten, Member of the European Commission (External Relations)

  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 priority—particularly 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[2] 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 misunderstandings.

  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 Short.

The Rt Hon Chris Patten, Member of the European Commission (External Relations)

12 February 2002

2   Not printed. Copy placed in the Library. Back

previous page contents

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 April 2002