Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Sixth Report

6 EU External Action: Human Rights



COM(06) 354

Draft Regulation establishing a financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights)

Legal baseArt 179 and 181(a) TEC; consultation; QMV
Document originated26 June 2006
Deposited in Parliament30 June 2006
DepartmentInternational Development
Basis of considerationEM of 13 July 2006
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see HC 34-xxxv (2005-06), para 11 (12 July 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested.


6.1 Hitherto, the EC's External Actions spending has been funded from a multitude of diverse instruments and budget lines. As part of the 2007-13 Financial Perspective, the Commission proposed, in September 2004, that all External Actions spending should be rationalized and simplified under one heading (Heading 4) and implemented under six Instruments. Three new instruments would support EU external policies directly:

—  a Pre-Accession Instrument (IPA) for candidate and potential candidate countries covering institution-building, co-operation, rural development and human resources development;

—   a European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) for all countries covered by the European Neighbourhood policy, to enhance political security, economic and cultural co-operation and to offer participation in EU activities; and

—  a Development Cooperation and Economic Cooperation Instrument (DCECI), which would both encompass co-operation with developed and developing economy partners and support the poorest countries in reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals, and which the Commission proposed should incorporate the successor to the 9th European Development Fund (i.e. that the EDF should be "budgetised"; a proposal that was not supported by the Member States).

6.2 These three Instruments would be complemented by three thematic Instruments, designed principally to respond to crisis situations until normal co-operation could be resumed: the existing, essentially unchanged Humanitarian Aid and Macro Financial Assistance Instruments and a new Instrument for Stability.[19]

6.3 Both we and our predecessors considered these documents on several occasions, eventually recommending them for debate.[20] On 10 November 2005 the European Standing Committee concluded that it "agrees with the Government that they provide a good basis for discussion of external actions spending (Heading 4) in the next Financial Perspectives 2007-2013".[21]

The Council Regulation

6.4 The draft Regulation embodies a new financing instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights, the European Instrument for the Democracy and Human Rights. It would provide a legal basis for the successor programme to the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which expires at the end of 2006. The new instrument would apply from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2013.

6.5 In his helpful Explanatory Memorandum of 13 July 2006, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (Mr Gareth Thomas) explains that this new instrument emanates from what he describes as "lengthy negotiations with the Commission, Council and the European Parliament". It forms part of what has now become a package of nine instruments:

a)  the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument;

b)  the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance;

c)  the Stability Instrument;

d)  the Nuclear Safety Instrument;

e)  the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCECI), which would include a number of thematic programmes;

f)  the Industrialised Countries Instrument;

g)  the Humanitarian Assistance Instrument; and

h)  the Macro-Financial Assistance Instrument.

6.6 We have already cleared a) to d).[22] We still await developments on e) and f), where we understand that the latter has been "spun off" from the former in order to give a clearer focus to each of the two separate Instruments than would have been the case if these very different activities had remained combined. And, as noted above, g) and h) are existing Instruments.

6.7 Originally, the Commission proposal was that human rights would be one of the DCECI thematic programmes. However, the Minister says that:

    "… the European Parliament, in particular, has wished to continue a separate regulation for the Community's spend on democracy and human rights, for reasons of political sensitivity and visibility. A high level trilogue between the three institutions on June 26th decided to endorse this, and move forward with its preparation and rapid approval such that the instrument would become operational once the new FP enters into force.

    "The new instrument will have the specific purpose of helping meet EU policy objectives on the promotion of human rights and democracy in external relations. As human rights and democracy issues are increasingly mainstreamed in geographic and thematic programmes, the new instrument will complement their efforts by working at international and regional levels and through its ability to work in partner countries without host government consent.

    "The instrument will: make possible cooperation with civil society on sensitive human rights and democracy issues; provide flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and support innovation; support objectives and measures at international level; support trans-national approaches; and support EU work on election observation.

    "The main objectives of the instrument will be to:

a)  enhance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms where they are at most risk and provide support and solidarity to victims of repression and abuse;

b)  strengthen the role of civil society in promoting human rights and democratic reform, develop political participation and representation, and support conflict prevention;

c)  support the international framework for the protection of human rights, the rule of law and the promotion of democracy;

d)  build confidence in democratic electoral processes through further development of electoral observation and assistance.

    "The proposed Regulation outlines a general framework for implementation; eligibility criteria; management procedures; budget allocations and types of financing; procurement rules; evaluation and review. Strategy papers and annual action programmes will set out in further detail the support to be provided from this Regulation."

6.8 Finally, the Minister explains that assistance under this Regulation is intended to complement other EU assistance, and to be coordinated with Member State assistance to other countries: "To that end, in implementation, the Commission will be assisted by a Democracy and Human Rights Committee of Member States representatives, and the provisions of Council Decision 1999/468/EC16 (comitology decision) will apply."

The Government's view

6.9 The Minister says:

    "The EU plays a leading role on democracy and human rights issues and it should continue to maintain a high profile on such issues. To date there has been much debate on whether democracy and human rights should be covered as other thematic programmes within the Development Cooperation instrument or by a separate instrument. In principle, we see value in a separate instrument for democracy and human rights. The benefits of this include a strengthened commitment and higher profile to the issues of human rights and democracy, and protected funding.

    "Promotion of democracy and human rights also feature among the objectives and measures of the other external action instruments, including the European Development Fund. We strongly support the mainstreaming of these issues in all relevant EU programmes. At the same time, we support the creation of a separate instrument, which will complement and add value to other external action programmes, and which will be effective in situations where other instruments are not suitable. This instrument will be able to support civil society activities without partner country governments' consent (which other instruments require). It will be available where other programmes do not exist or have been suspended, and it provides for activities which are international and regional in nature. It will focus on innovative and experimental approaches to democracy and human rights, which might involve some risk-taking; work in difficult environments and with challenging partners; and respond to emerging and unforeseen opportunities.

    "In recent years there has been much justified criticism that the process for implementing the EIDHR[23] has become slow, inflexible and inefficient. Our view is that any new instrument that aims to be flexible, responsive and creative must have a legal basis and management procedures that permits this. The impact of a separate instrument will be undermined without such improvements.

    "The Regulation sets out the management procedures allowing flexible responses outside normal planning frameworks to react to unforeseen and exceptional circumstances. Also, and compared to current practice, Member States will henceforward only focus on adopting strategy papers and annual action programmes rather than detailed projects and programmes. This should lead to more effective management and swifter handling.

    "To further reinforce flexibility, we have suggested that the Commission maintain an adequate contingency reserve to use at fairly short notice and/or establish a fast-track process — without the heavy constraint of calls for proposals — to facilitate a response to 'windows of opportunity' and deal with emergencies.

    "We are keen to see two specific changes to the Regulation. Firstly, Article 10 purports to permit delegated management, in accordance with Article 54 of the Financial Regulation. Article 54 imposes two requirements before management can be delegated. First, the basic act (i.e. Regulation) must provide the possibility for doing so. Second, the basic act must lay down the criteria for the selection of the bodies, which could be considered for delegated authority. Article 10 does not do so. Criteria could either be spelled out in the instrument, or in another document with cross-references in this instrument.

    "Secondly, the inclusion of the phrase 'in particular by strengthening the role of civil society' in Article 2(1)(a) — which relates to support for democracy and processes of democratisation — risks the Commission being unduly restrictive. It could be advantageous to support public bodies like national human rights commissions, ombudsmen, political party groups or parliamentary institutions in these areas, even if the national government is unenthusiastic.

    "Whilst the EU's elections observation work is rightly praised there is pressure to expand election monitoring work. However, this is resource intensive and imposes huge management burdens. We believe measures should be put in place to ensure that the activity does not absorb a disproportionate percentage of the budget of this new instrument. Any serious increases in demand for this work raise the argument for the activity to have its own procedures, budget and management team. While elections work is important, it should not absorb large sums of money that could be used for other methods of promoting democratic principles and human rights.

    "Overall the Commission's proposal is very broad. To ensure the effectiveness of the Instrument, activities funded from and supported by it need to focus on the added-value it provides. We will support the Commission in delivering an effective instrument by engaging actively in the development and review processes of the Commission's strategy papers, which set out more detailed objectives and direction of the instrument, and annual programming plans, and commenting on resource allocation processes, and other key opportunities."

6.10 On the Financial Implications, the Minister says that the financial resources for this Regulation during 2007-13 will be €1,103 million, "which is compatible with existing financial programming and the Preliminary Draft Budget 2007".

6.11 On the Timetable, the Minister says that the co-decision process is about to begin: "in a first instance, the European Parliament need to establish its Opinion, followed by a Council Common Position. This is likely to take place in early autumn. The process must conclude with a fully adopted, co-decided regulation by 31 December 2006, to avoid any discontinuity in funding for the promotion of democracy and human rights."


6.12 We are grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive explanation of the origins of this change of plan, which is the result of the democratic process enshrined in the consultation provisions of the Treaty.

6.13 However, as he makes clear, the result of these changes is a number of important considerations that have yet to be finally determined. We should therefore be grateful if the Minister would submit a further Explanatory Memorandum once a Common Position has been achieved.

6.14 In the meantime, we shall keep the document under scrutiny.

19   (26041) 13686/04, COM (04) 626: HC 38-i (2004-05), para 9 (1 December 2004). Back

20   See headnote. Back

21   Stg Co. Deb. European Standing Committee, 10 November 2005, cols 3-36. Back

22   See headnote and (27267) 15171/2/05, HC 34-xix (2005-06), para 15 (15 February 2006). Back

23   The European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR),was created by an initiative of the European Parliament in 1994, which brought together a series of budget headings specifically dealing with the promotion of human rights. See for further information. Back

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