Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twelfth Report



COM(01) 381

Commission Communication: The development of the external service.

Legal base:
Document originated:3 July 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 2 October 2001
Department:Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 11 January 2002
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


  16.1  The Commission has recognised for some time that the External Service needs to be "thoroughly overhauled". Introducing this Communication, it says that the reforms should:

    "reflect the new ambition and capacity of the European Union in external relations. In particular, it needs to take account of the framework of rules and instruments for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam and at subsequent European Councils. Change and modernisation of the External Service must also be seen in relation to the reform of EC external assistance and in the context of the wider process of Commission reform."

  16.2  We have considered several Commission Communications on these reforms in the last six months. The most recent, which we cleared, was also entitled The development of the external service[34].

The Commission Communication

  16.3  This document concentrates on the network of Delegations of the External Service and their role. The Commission notes that, although hierarchically part of the Commission structure, the Delegations serve the EU's interests as a whole. When candidate countries become Member States, the Delegations to them will be replaced by Representations. The EU is represented, at present, in 123 countries and at five international organisations.

  16.4  The Delegations publicise, explain and implement EU policy, analyse the policies of the countries to which they are accredited and conduct negotiations on behalf of the EU. Their work varies from promoting the common commercial policy and EU interests in the areas of Justice and Home Affairs and the Common Foreign and Security Policy to administering development assistance, in which they play a key role. This role will expand greatly as a consequence of the policy of "deconcentration",[35] which is starting to be implemented.

Further information on the Communication and the Government's view of it

  16.5  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 11 January, the Minister for Europe (Mr Peter Hain) summarises the Communication and includes comments on it. He says:

    "The overall purpose of the reform is to manage better the Community's external assistance programmes and to achieve a fully integrated external service. The centrepiece of this reform is 'deconcentration'; the devolution of responsibility and resources away from Brussels to Commission delegations in-country. Implementation of the Commission's proposals is still at an early stage. The process started at the beginning of 2001 with the creation of EuropeAid, and it is expected that 22 delegations will have received extra staff and/or more autonomy in 2001. The overall process is due to be completed by 2003.

    "EuropeAid has been created to implement the external aid instruments of the European Commission which are funded by the European Community budget (excluding pre-accession aid, humanitarian aid and CFSP programmes) and the European Development Fund. A third of EuropeAid's staff will remain in Brussels, the rest will be posted to delegations.

    "The second part of the Commission Communication deals with the changes to its network of delegations to reflect the evolving priorities of the EC's external relations. The Commission proposes to open delegations in Malaysia, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia for trade and political purposes, and in Cambodia, Laos, Nepal and Paraguay for development reasons. The Commission will close delegations in Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Comores, Dutch Antilles, Sãe Tome e Principe, Tongo and Equatorial Guinea. The UK has requested that the Commission monitors the situation in those countries where the Commission is reducing its representation to ensure that the Commission is able to maintain effective relations under the new arrangements, whereby each of the countries involved will be covered by a neighbouring EC Delegation office.

    "The Government believes that this process will in the longer term improve co-ordination with Member States, other donors and governments and make the EC more responsive to the host country's needs. These reforms will take some time to turn into added impact on the ground. The UK is pressing, through our contacts with the Commission, to ensure the reforms are fully implemented, and demonstrate improved impact."

  16.6  Due to pressure of work on the relevant section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) following the 11 September events, including extra business generated by much more frequent meetings of the General Affairs Council, this Explanatory Memorandum has been submitted after an unusually long delay. In the meantime, the Committee staff asked FCO officials if several questions about the impact of the reforms could be covered in the Explanatory Memorandum. The Minister answers as follows:

    "(i) Should the Commission's London office have a dedicated point of contact for UK NGOs? The Government considers that the most effective way for UK NGOs to contact the Commission is directly to the relevant Delegation or contact point in Brussels. The Commission Representation in London can, and does, provide assistance to UK NGOs trying to establish who that contact could be. The reforms will create a transparent process, clear lines of responsibility, and, as with the UK's own development programme, encourage direct contact for NGOs with Commission representatives based in the recipient region. [In addition], UK NGO's can also access the Commission through CLONG (the Liaison Committee of Development NGOs), which represents the Community's NGOs.

    "(ii) How are responsibilities split between DG Development and DG External Relations? DG External Relations oversees the Commission's relations with all third countries except those covered by DG Enlargement and DG Development. The latter deals with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. These responsibilities remain largely unchanged. However, the creation of EuropeAid has provided a single entity to deliver and manage the development programmes for DGs' External Relations and Development.

    "(iii) Does deconcentration allow for effective monitoring and implementation of the Community's aid policy? The Government [welcomes the proposals and] believes that deconcentration will allow for quicker and improved monitoring and evaluation of development programmes by specialists in-country. The creation of the inter-service Quality Support Group will provide additional evaluation, including on the Country Strategy Papers developed for each country in receipt of Community aid."


  16.7  Whilst we welcome the improvements which these reforms are expected to bring overall, we remain somewhat sceptical about the ease with which British development NGOs will be able to gain access to the Commission and its Delegations when these reforms are in place, particularly when it comes to the delivery of programmes and projects in countries where the NGOs do not have representatives of their own. Access to EU officials will continue to be necessary, particularly if the usual struggles over delays in payment continue, and we fear that these reforms may exacerbate the situation, with distance from the decision-makers acting as a barrier and the HQ staff in Brussels still sufficiently loaded with the burdens of bureaucracy to be difficult to reach. We do, however, welcome the Government's determination to ensure that effective relations are maintained in countries covered by a Delegation office in the neighbouring country, and that the Commission is required to demonstrate that the reforms are improving the impact of the Community's external assistance.

  16.8  We have drawn this Communication to the attention of the International Development Committee, which will take the issues it raises into account in its inquiry into The Effectiveness of the reforms of European Development Assistance.

  16.9  We now clear the document.

34  (21504) 10644/00; see HC 23-xxvii (1999-2000), paragraph 22 (25 October 2000). Back

35  The Commission's policy of 'deconcentration' is to devolve more responsibility for the management of projects to its delegations abroad. A policy of greater 'decentralisation', that is, of devolving more responsibility to beneficiary countries, is also to be followed in future. Back

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