Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Eighth Report






Draft Council Decision on the conclusion of the Convention between the European Community and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) concerning aid to refugees in the countries in the Near East for 2002-2005.

Legal base:

Articles 181 and 300 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting


Document originated:

3 May 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

15 May 2002


International Development

Basis of consideration:

EM of 23 April 2002

Previous Committee Report:

None; but see (23292) 6356/02; HC 152-xxii (2001-02), paragraph 22 (20 March 2002)

Discussed in Council:

No date set, but early adoption expected

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:





  6.1  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is responsible for providing basic health, education, and social services to 3.9 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

  6.2  On 20 March 2002[11], we cleared a Recommendation for a Council Decision authorising the Commission to negotiate a Convention between the EC and UNRWA to provide core funding for the Agency's operations over the period 2002-2005. The purpose of this proposal is to authorise the conclusion of the Convention.

  6.3  The new Convention will be implemented by two agreements of two years each, with annual negotiations for the contribution to the food aid budget. For 2002, UNRWA has requested a contribution to its General Fund of 55 million and a subsequent increase of 5 % in each of the following years. This amounts to 55 million in 2002, 57.8 million in 2003, 60.6 million in 2004, and 63.7 million in 2005.

  6.4  The Convention will also allow, at UNRWA's request, the separate annual negotiation of the EC's contribution to UNRWA's food aid programme. UNRWA estimates the food aid programme will require 89.23 million in total for the four-year period.

  6.5  The ability of UNRWA to provide its services is entirely dependent on sufficient annual voluntary contributions. The proposed Convention will help UNRWA to establish a firm financial footing, and to operate on a sustainable and cost-effective basis.

The Government's view

  6.6  The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short) says:

"The political situation in the Middle East has steadily worsened, culminating with unprecedented levels of violence and destruction in the West Bank during the last few weeks. Hundreds of lives have been lost in the UNRWA refugee camps alone, and millions of dollars worth of damage caused as houses, schools and health clinics have been bulldozed to the ground.

"The ongoing violence and the strict restrictions applied by the Israeli authorities on the movement of Palestinian people and goods in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has had a severe impact on the Palestinian economy, and the loss of income for many people. This is causing a great hardship, with the poorest communities, often those in refugee camps, the hardest hit. UNRWA's limited resources are under extreme pressure as it seeks to continue to provide essential relief services as well as maintain its on-going regular programme.

"UNRWA has for a number of years had to live with a perennial funding gap between its agreed General Fund budget and voluntary contributions. Although the gap in 2001 was the lowest for 10 years there is still some way to go to give UNRWA much better financial planning security. The EC's Convention fully complements UK policy and the increased levels of funding proposed will help improve financial stability.

"UNRWA has continued, with donor support, its on-going reform initiatives across the broad spectrum of its operations. A positive approach strengthens the international community's partnership with UNRWA, and demonstrates that, as they continue the process to deliver services more effectively and efficiently, we are prepared to support them."


  6.7  The Minister says that the Member States have been consulted and agree that donor contributions to UNRWA should take into account the increased burdens placed on the Agency by the current crisis in the Middle East, the rate of increase in the Palestinian population, and inflation.


  6.8  We note that the figures proposed are the same as those in the Commission's proposal of 13 February 2002 in which it sought authority to negotiate the new Convention.

  6.9  The Secretary of State tells us that this Decision will need to be agreed by the Council as soon as possible. We understand the need for speed and clear the document. But we ask the Minister whether the sums proposed are likely to be amended when an assessment has been made of damage to health and education facilities since February and whether such an assessment is already under way. Alternatively, does she expect extra funds to be sought in a separate proposal?

  6.10  Elsewhere in this Report we report on a proposal that the EC should make an additional contribution of 15 million towards a deficit in UNRWA's 2001 budget[12].


11  (23292) 6356/02: see headnote to this paragraph. Back

12  (23049) 14773/01; see paragraph 5 of this Report. Back

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