Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report



Letter from the Rt Hon Clare Short MP, Secretary of State for International Development, Department for International Development, to The Baroness Hillson of Eggardon, Chairman of Sub-Committee C (Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection)

  Thank you for your report on the Tacis Programme. In general we welcome the report, and agree with the conclusions reached by the Committee, many of which accord well with our own perceptions of how the Tacis programme might be improved.

  The Committee appears to have been very much aware of local sensitivities, and has recognised the skills and experiences already existing in the region, as well as drawing tactful attention to the need for action by partner country governments (recommendations 1, 2 and 7.) We agree with the proposal in recommendation 7 that the Commission should promote greater participation by NIS experts, and we have made this point in the preliminary discussions on the new Tacis Regulation.

  We fully support recommendations 3 and 16 that there should be closer co-operation with other international financing institutions, and believe that Tacis should take an active part in the continuing work of the Environmental Action Programme Task Force and the Project Preparation Committee. We would also like to endorse the need for Tacis projects to have a clear strategy for follow-on funding from other sources.

  Recommendation 4, which highlights the need for Tacis to become more transparent and accessible for would-be applicants, is particularly pertinent. Many emerging non-governmental organisations and other citizens' groups in the NIS must be deterred by the complex application procedures. My officials will make a point of drawing to the Commission's attention the procedures for applications to the UK National Lottery.

  The Commission is currently planning initiatives which would reinforce the "People-to-People" policy (recommendation 5) and increase the number of attachments (recommendation 10) through the use of twinning. Although there may be fewer opportunities in the public sector for the UK than for other Member States, we do see possibilities for increased twinning with other community organisations, including non-governmental organisations.

  Recommendation 6, that smaller-scale programmes should be expanded in order to foster the growth of environmental NGOs, will probably be less welcome to the Commission, which is hoping to concentrate on fewer, large-scale actions in future. Inevitably, a concentration on larger projects will make it more difficult for smaller organisations to become involved, and the evidence given to the Committee testifies to the important multiplier effect that small-scale initiatives can have. At present, this is not an area of comparative advantage for the Commission, whose procedures and resources are unsuited to supporting small scale programmes. The question is whether the Commission should look for cost-effective ways of managing such programmes, such as decentralising responsibility to delegations in the field and ensuring that small-scale projects are kept within the frameworks of programmes like Bistro, Lien etc, or whether it should recognise that these activities are better left to bilateral donors. The Commission have also not made it clear exactly how the small programmes will be managed under the new Regulation, and we propose to ask for further clarification on this point.

  There is certainly a case for increasing the rates paid to local consultants, as you suggest in recommendation 8, although not necessarily for reducing the rates for EU-based experts. Working with local consultants involves an element of capacity-building, which requires management inputs from the international partners.

  As far as the Commission's procedures and organisation is concerned, we support the idea of more delegation, greater flexibility and openness, better coordination, and measures to improve speed and efficiency (recommendations 9, 11-14), although we take the view that strengthening of staff resources should be achieved by reorganisation within the Commission rather than by increasing numbers.

  Monitoring and evaluation (recommendation 15) is an area in which we have a close interest. We would prefer to see clearer goals and objectives for projects set by the Commission at the outset, so that success could be judged by how far these had been achieved, rather than by the amount of money spent on evaluation. This relates to recommendation 12 on staffing: as my officials said in oral evidence, we would prefer to see the Commission develop its internal expertise, rather than increase its staff numbers, to enable it to make better judgements on project quality.

  Finally, we were pleased to see in recommendation 17 the conclusion that the position of the environment should be maintained and strengthened as a priority area. We—and a number of other Member States—have emphasised very strongly the need to ensure that the environment is not squeezed out by a proposal in the new Regulation that country programmes should focus on only three out of six possible areas of co-operation, of which environmental protection is one.

  I understand your Committee is planning to consider this response along with our explanatory memorandum on the Commission's proposals for the new Tacis Regulation—sent with my letter of 14 February—and as further background to the new Regulation.

9 March 1999

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