Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 214 - 219)




  214. Commissioner, it is very good of you to give us time, particularly so early on a Monday morning. We are very grateful to you for fitting in an evidence session with the Committee. As you know, this Committee in the previous Parliament I think looked at European development aid on about three occasions, and, not surprisingly, the fact that about 30 per cent of the DFID budget goes to the European Union is obviously an issue we are very interested in. I think we are conscious that we are part way through a reform process. How do you see those reforms working? Are you satisfied with the pace of how they are going? Also, when we were in Brussels recently the relationship between the various Directorates General was described by one of your colleagues as a "badly organised relay run", I think the analogy being that you were not always quite sure who was handing the baton to whom. Are you satisfied that the structures which govern European development assistance work are working? Is there sufficient clarity as regards the roles and responsibilities to various Directorates General and EuropeAid? I know we can all get fascinated and involved with machinery in government issues, but is it working, or is there a long way to go?

  (Mr Patten) I am just wondering where to start. Let me begin with where I started in the summer of 1999, when I was reading myself in for my confirmation hearings in the European Parliament. There were then five Commissioners with various geographical responsibilities. We had an extraordinary arrangement under which officials responsible for, by and large, programming and project identification had no responsibilities for implementation; we had a situation—and I do not think it was the fault of the staff—in which, instead of our programmes around the world bringing some credit to the European Union, on the whole the reverse was very often the case; and we were in a position in which the backlog of commitments seemed to me to be out of all proportion to what one should expect in any reasonably run development programme. Of course, because it takes time to implement a project, there is always bound to be some backlog of commitments but, as I recall the figures when I became a Commissioner, they were that it would take almost five years for us to clear our commitments as a whole and there were some parts of the world where the figures were much greater than that. It would take up to nine years for us to clear our commitments in the Mediterranean: it would have taken about seven years for us to clear our commitments in Asia; about six and a half in Latin America—that is assuming one did not take on further commitments. I thought those figures were a disaster and I, therefore, set to with my colleagues, the other External Relations Commissioners, to try to transform and turn matters around within the framework of the responsibilities that we were given as Commissioners. I have two responses to your questions: first of all, are things working better? Yes, they are and I can give you some indications of that. I think you know the policies we have been pursuing from devolving responsibilities to the field to organizing the planning of assistance in a different way with the programming done in Directorates General and the project identification and implementation, the whole of the cycle pursued by EuropeAid. It is working better—I think there are figures which demonstrate that—but just as it took 5, 6, 7 years to turn the World Bank round, so I think it is going to take some time to turn our programmes around. What I am reluctant to do, now I am beyond all known political ambition, is to make extravagant claims about what we have managed to achieve before we can demonstrate it on the ground. If there is not a significant improvement by the time I step down as a Commissioner at the end of 2004 I shall have been a failure, and I think the Commission will have failed, but I think we are starting to see improvements. I think we are seeing improvements in the quality of our Country Strategy Papers; I think we are seeing improvements in the quality of the programmes we are designing; I think we are seeing improvements in the pace at which we do things—and I think that has been manifest in the Balkans and in Pakistan also recently—and I think we are seeing improvements in morale and also in the reduction of the backlog of commitments, both commitments which are out of time and commitments which are dormant. Is the framework within which we are working ideal? I always have less enthusiasm, I think, than other people for constantly pulling things up and examining the roots and trying to replant them. I think we have set ourselves a very difficult task to carry these reforms through and I think we should avoid any further disruption until they have had a chance to succeed. Will the allocation of responsibilities be exactly the same in the next Commission as it was in this? I rather doubt it but I think that this works better than the arrangements I remember when I was a development minister in the British government and was having to work with the Department of Trade and the Foreign Office. I think we work well as a team of Commissioners. I chair the External Relations Commissioners' group; we work well formally and informally and I would be very resistant to the suggestion that halfway through this enterprise we should turn everything over again.

  215. That is very helpful. The Country Strategy Papers were very encouraging because one really felt that for the first time you could look at a country and there was a strategy paper by which one could measure progress and know what was intended, and there could be some shared responsibility and some understanding. How does your Directorate General relate to EuropeAid in the drawing-up of those strategy papers? How does it work round the Commission? Do minutes go round? Is this a collective strategy? Are these strategy papers a collective responsibility? How do they evolve?
  (Mr Patten) It is very much a collective strategy. As an institution, the Directorate General for Development is, as it were, the guardian of the philosophy: it also has, of course, responsibility for some of the geographic desks and has the major input into some horizontal policy issues, but the country strategy papers are the result of teamwork between the Directorates General, and I think you will have observed in Brussels how, for example, effective we have been in ensuring that the Trade Directorate General—not just RELEX and Development—take account of the concerns about global equity issues and about development policy as a whole. I would just make one other point about country strategy papers: quite apart from the impact of the quality support group on the country strategy papers and quite apart from the impact of horizontal studies on issues like food security on Country Strategy Papers, I think the main improvement has been because of the unifying of the project cycle and the distinction between project identification implementation, on the one hand, and strategy papers on the other. I had the impression in the past that country strategy papers were a sort of post hoc attempt to justify the selection of projects by those who were also drawing up the country strategy papers, and I think the country strategy papers are now much better strategically and much better as freestanding frameworks for what we are doing in each country.

Hugh Bayley

  216. I would like to look a little bit further at the interrelation between different Commissioners' work. If you look at the trade round post Doha, the view from the south is very clear: that unless there is a considerably greater opportunity for them to export textiles and agricultural produce to Europe, it will not be a development round. Can you tell me and the Committee how the various parts of the RELEX family are co-ordinating what they are doing, and what you think the EU policy response will be?
  (Mr Patten) First of all, the co-ordination between the External Relations Commissions is, as I mentioned earlier, both formal and informal. The External Relations Commissioners meet for formal meetings periodically and the group, as you know, consists of myself in the chair, the Trade Commissioner, the Enlargement Commissioner, Economic and Monetary Affairs, and Development, and we also have there our senior officials and officials from ECHO and an official from the President's Cabinet. I think all of us find that quite useful—not least in ensuring that, by and large, when we have External Relations business in the full Commission, we do not lose the argument, but I think all of us would also concede the most useful meetings we have are informal breakfasts that we have before Commission meetings periodically, and I think those have ensured that, on major issues, we have been able to ensure that both the political and the developmental arguments are taken proper account of. Some of the distinctions in terms of administrative responsibility are difficult. Pascal Lamy and I both have responsibilities, for example, for the negotiations at the moment of agreements with Chile and with Mercosur, but we manage those responsibilities, I think, without certainly at our level any of the sort of turf war which I am told used to distinguish Commission proceedings in the past. What happens at the top in terms of co-ordination happens at the next level with co-operation between our Directors General. I believe that we were, for example, very effective in being able to launch the Everything But Arms initiative precisely because of the co-operation that goes on between the Directorates General, and I refer you back to what I said at the outset: that in the last Commission the world was divided up between five Commissioners, rather as Africa was divided up by colonial powers—it was a very curious arrangement. You ask about the development agenda in the WTO round: clearly the most important issue that we will have to resolve as a Union and as a Commission in order to convince developing countries that we really have their interests at heart is the whole issue of CAP reform. Now there are other issues which matter and other issues which are of concern, such as ensuring that developing countries can make the most of what Doha had to offer, and the provision of adequate quantities of trade-related technical assistance, for example, which I think is a serious challenge for us over the next years, but CAP reform, a subject on which we all have strong views, is I think going to be key. There are those who think that CAP reform has its own dynamic: that we should not see it being driven by enlargement or by the concerns of developing countries. Well, I certainly think it has its own dynamic but I certainly think it is also relevant to the WTO and to enlargement, and there are clear political and moral difficulties in, for example, explaining a robust policy on anti-dumping to developing countries at the same time as you are subsidising agricultural exports. It is difficult, I think, explaining to developing countries the moral case for spending five times as much in the rich world on subsidies for agriculture as we do on development assistance, but those are obviously issues that go well beyond my brief alone

Mr Robathan

  217. Could I take you a little bit beyond your brief, because this is the million dollar question surely in the development round for the European Union: do you think there is an appetite for real CAP reform amongst the countries of the Union?
  (Mr Patten) I should be cautious how I answer because agriculture is not my direct responsibility in the Commission though I share collectively in responsibility for the decisions we make. I think, if you look at the present debate in Germany about agriculture, enlargement and food quality, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that German policy has been completely transformed by developments in the last year or two. To be in a situation today where the agriculture minister is a member of the Green Party represents, I think, a complete reversal of what one has expected. I read the other day in Le Monde a series of articles on the importance of agricultural reform so I think the debate is taking off, and I do not think we should assume that everything is pickled in aspic as far as agricultural reform is concerned.

Hugh Bayley

  218. Can I ask you how the Common Foreign and Security Policy relates to development concerns, perhaps using the example of Afghanistan last year? Leaving aside for a moment the development concerns, how well do you think the Common Foreign and Security Policy responded to the situation in Afghanistan?
  (Mr Patten) Can I, first of all, "define my terms", as Professor Joad might have said. We are talking about a common not a single foreign and security policy, and sometimes I hear what we are attempting to do described as though it was an attempt to have one single policy for Europe in every external dimension, and that is not the point. The attempt is to seek to have a common view wherever we can, still having 15 foreign ministers, 15 foreign ministries and 15 governments with their own slightly different perceptions about the world. I think that there is a very important part of the CFSP which has a direct bearing on poverty and social equity issues. Our experience in the European Union should predispose us to play a leading role, to take an initiative in multilateral initiatives to deal with the dark side of globalisation. I have been more and more interested in the extent to which the traditional foreign and security policy agenda is changing. You still, when foreign ministers come together, hear a debate about Kashmir or the Middle East or whatever, but increasingly you also hear foreign ministers talking about issues which have not historically provided the agenda for foreign ministries. You hear them talking about organised crime, the drugs trade, about the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation and failed states and terrorism, and I think those are all issues which have to be addressed as part of the international agenda, sometimes under the auspices of the UN, and they do not represent the soft end of security. I think they very much represent a much tougher end of security, even if they are going to be more difficult to address. Afghanistan and the problems associated with it fit, in my judgment, into that context. First of all, Afghanistan is one of a number of failed states and we now know that the world can no longer cauterise itself from the effects of failed states, and that the consequences of a failed state are not only visited upon the citizens of that country but on others as well. 90 per cent of the heroin on London streets or Berlin's streets or Paris' or Madrid's streets comes from Afghanistan; most of the cocaine snorted in Los Angeles or New York comes from Colombia. You look through Africa at Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the DRC, and you see some of the consequences of failed states—both for the citizens of those countries and for the region and, potentially, globally—so I think, first of all, we have to recognise that Afghanistan is one of a number of countries on which we have to focus a great deal more political attention in order to try to repair the consequences of the breakdown of the institutions of government. Secondly, Afghanistan also has exported Talebanisation to some of its neighbours, and that has gone on over a period of years. The first time I visited Pakistan in the mid-1980s, Pakistani politicians were talking about the arrival of a Kalashnikov culture in their own politics because of the situation in Afghanistan, so we have to look at the neighbourhood and not just at Afghanistan itself. The first thing we did after the 11 September last year was to go to Pakistan. We have negotiated an opening of our market for textiles with Pakistan which is potentially worth about a billion in business; we have signed a Co-operation Agreement with Pakistan which had been on the backburner for some time before and which gives us the framework for a better political and economic relationship with Pakistan; we brought forward a number of social projects which had been on hold since the military coup, and we produced a package of quick disbursing assistance for the financial sector reforms being introduced by the government—all that both help to sustain the policy which President Musharaf's government had set itself and as a recognition of that government's recommitment to democracy and its commitment to elections later this year. Now, that was delivered very rapidly and I am seeing the Pakistan foreign minister this afternoon, but I saw the finance minister in Tokyo during the Afghanistan reconstruction conference and he said nobody had acted faster in relation to Pakistan after 11 September. As far as the Central Asian Republics and other neighbours are concerned, we have had more limited opportunity to get involved but we have doubled the allocations under the TACIS programme for the Central Asian Republics: it is still not a huge amount of money but it does, I think, give us a bit more elbow room to help them in dealing with regional problems partly associated with living in that neighbourhood. On Afghanistan itself, we have provided about

116 million in assistance since the beginning of last year—that has mostly been, though not entirely, in humanitarian assistance. We pledged ourselves at the reconstruction conference to spending

200 million this year and, provided the Parliament and the Council agree and provided that Afghanistan sticks to the path on which it has begun, we would intend to provide about that much for the next four years as well.

  219. Forgive me, that much per year?
  (Mr Patten) Yes, so a billion over a five-year period. That in relation to what the Member States are doing is about one part Commission/two parts Member States, which I think is about the right balance. It meant that, at the Tokyo conference, the European Union Member States and Commission was much the largest pledger of assistance. Out of the pledges made, we made about 45 per cent for the five-year period; out of the amount asked for or identified by the UNDP and others, we provided about 23 per cent and I think, given that we are one of the four co-chairs of the steering group, about 25 per cent—may be a little more, may be a little less—is about what we should be providing, so we should be encouraging others to be as generous as we have been in the future. What is important is not to make the pledges but to deliver the assistance quickly. We will be establishing this month in Kabul a European Commission office: we will be seeking to work very closely with other donors: we had the approval of Member States for a quick impact list of projects last week for about

60 million—we already have about

54 million under two of our budget lines which we are spending and we have a programme later in the year for about another

70 million. I am sorry to answer your question at some length but, as an example of a failed state, of a regional problem and as a country where we need to deploy development assistance effectively and fast, I think Afghanistan is a good example of what the new foreign policy agenda is at least partly about. Of course, it is still about deploying force but it is also about dealing with some of the reasons why force may be necessary in the first place.

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