Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 71 - 99)




  71.  Good morning. Thank you very much for coming. It is very brave of you to enter the lion's den all by yourself with no supporting staff. I do not know whether you would like to start off with some introductory remarks about TACIS generally? Could you tell us a bit about the structure and the decision making process?
  (Mrs Holm)  I am working in TACIS as a task manager which means that I am responsible for a number of different projects and programmes for environment. I am working on a technical level, obviously targeted on environment. That is why I am here. As to the overall structure for TACIS, the procedures and so forth, you are probably all aware it is the European Council and the European Parliament who are responsible for approving and deciding the overall policy issues and the budgets. The Member States monitor the programmes and approve the various stages of the planning process. This is done mainly through the TACIS management committee, where all the Member States are represented. Each partner country has a coordinating unit with a mandate to receive and screen project proposals for that specific country, also assisting the implementation of the projects. The coordinating units are staffed by local personnel, the national coordinator and also by expatriate experts. Of course, the Commission is responsible for the management of the TACIS programme, for the overall direction, for the programming and for the implementation. Shall I make the whole presentation?

  72.  It is a bit exhausting for you to do it without interruption. One of our concerns about the management committee, the one on which all the Member States are represented, is that this seems a very top-heavy way of making decisions. We understand they have to approve individual projects and not just the overall strategy and that seems to us very heavy for them.

  A.  The management committee is presented with what we call an action programme which is composed of a number of different projects. If the management committee so wish, they can comment on the individual projects. They can also comment on the more overall guideline for that specific country.

  73.  If an individual Member country did not like a particular project, could they veto it? My understanding is that it is by a unanimous decision.

  A.  Yes, it is a consensus.

  74.  If one particular participating country did not like a project, could they veto that?

  A.  It does happen that project proposals put forward to the management committee are not approved in the end but it is mostly that some components of the project or the programme are shifted in some way.

  75.  Do you think there should be more delegated authority to the Commission to make decisions about the projects and programmes or not? Is it not for you to say?

  A.  It is not for me to say really.

  76.  I do not know how long your initial presentation is?

  A.  I had a number of questions sent to me, so I tried to prepare.

  77.  We will ask them individually to give you more of a conversational feel, if that is all right. Could you tell us about your staff resources? Do you have enough? When we looked at the PHARE programme four years ago, we found that there were very inadequate numbers of staff in the Commission to run very complex programmes.

  A.  If I look at it at task manager level and I compare it with, for example, other international financing institutions—the World Bank, EBRD—and also if I compare it with the bilateral donors and so forth, the number of projects or programmes per task manager in TACIS and the budget that we are each responsible for is higher.

  78.  Could you tell us what the size of your own particular team is, how many people you have to run things and what your responsibilities are?

  A.  This varies very much. For example, I am responsible for what we call the TACIS Interstate Multicountry Programmes, which have an average budget of 10 million ECU per year. Each project under this can run for two years.

  79.  What staff do you have supporting you in the Commission?

  A.  Myself.

  80.  Just you? You have nobody working for you or with you at all?

  A.  I have the TACIS contractors, the ones who are implementing the projects, who are supposed to do the major part of the work.

  81.  Do you have secretarial support?

  A.  Yes, I have a secretary.

Lord Elis-Thomas

  82.  Can I ask about the regulation in 1996 and environment becoming a priority area? How does that work within the TACIS budget in terms of ensuring that the environmental priority has a fair share of resources?

  A.  There is not an earmarked budget for environment projects for the year. We divide it a little bit between the more free-standing environment projects, which you can find under the Interstate Multicountry Programmes, because environment is one of the three concentration areas there, and this is where TACIS started to work firstly on environment issues, under this kind of programme. There, it has a large share. You can also find free-standing environment projects under the Russian National Action Programme as well as under the Ukraine National Action Programme. These are the only two countries where you have free-standing environment projects.

  83.  Can I ask what, apart from the obvious one of nuclear safety, are the other priorities in the Ukraine and Russia within both their national programmes and also TACIS?

  A.  Overall, as is said in the regulation, their priorities are the institutional strengthening and the environment management structures in both these two countries are very weak. Several of the projects are targeted into strengthening their environment management structure and strengthening environmental authorities. Also, it is quite targeted towards working on legislation issues and development, assisting the countries in developing more overall priorities for how they want to work on environment issues. For example, the development of what we call the National Environmental Action Plans.

  84.  You play a major role in supporting the development of those plans?

  A.  Yes, we do.

  85.  Identifying their priorities as well?

  A.  Yes. This has been one of TACIS's larger projects. Also, the World Bank is very much involved in this process, taking part under what we call the Environment for Europe process.

  86.  We understand that there is a project for a Regional Environmental Centre in the New Independent States similar to the Budapest centre. Can you give us some more information on that?

  A.  Yes. It was decided at the Environment Ministers' conference in Sofia, which is under the framework of the Environment for Europe process, that we should assist the NIS countries in developing or establishing Regional Environmental Centres. It was decided that TACIS, in 1996, should support this process with roughly two million ECU. We started the actual work in 1997. We decided that we should firstly support and assist Moldova, Russia and Georgia. We cooperated quite closely with the USAID on these issues because they are one of the main funders for the new RECs and they have taken the main responsibility for the Ukraine. We have been in the lead for the three other countries. It has been a very complicated process in getting these centres established, the legal establishment of them, how to legally establish them so that they are non-governmental and non-profit making organisations. It has been quite a complicated process.


  87.  Where are they going to be located?

  A.  They will be located in the capitals.

  88.  In the individual ones? The one we saw in Budapest, which we were very impressed by when we looked at the PHARE programme, covered a number of countries and we thought they were extremely active and useful in supporting NGOs and providing information.

  A.  Of course in Russia it will be located in Moscow. It is a region in itself. The Ukraine is also a very large country. Moldova is a bit of a special case. We could not attach it to the Ukraine or Romania so it will be a very small centre. The centre to be established in Tbilisi in Georgia is with the objective that it will be truly a regional centre for the whole Caucasususus. Having these three countries cooperating in those issues is very difficult, obviously. However, we are quite convinced that at least we will succeed eventually even if Armenia and Azerbaijan will not participate from the very beginning in the new work in Tbilisi. We are quite convinced that they will do so in the future.

  89.  You have to be optimistic?

  A.  Yes. We have had extensive discussions with all three countries. We have had requests from central Asia, especially from Kazakhstan, to set up such a centre for central Asia. This will most likely be approved at TACIS. There will only be one centre for the whole of central Asia to cover the huge region.

  90.  I was going to ask you about St Petersburg. I thought TACIS was doing something on water in St Petersburg. Is there not some sort of project about improving water, sewerage and so on?

  A.  There is a Cross-Border Cooperation Programme which has many environment projects. There is one project for St Petersburg involving solid waste management.

  91.  But it is the fact that the sewage gets into the canals and the River Neva and so on, is it not, and TACIS is doing something about that?

  A.  We are doing a Cross-Border Cooperation Project on hazardous waste management because outside St Petersburg there are huge dumps of hazardous waste which are leaking into the town water. We are trying to improve the situation.

  92.  Cross-border with which countries?

  A.  Finland.

  93.  Because they are being affected by the pollution?

  A.  Yes.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede:  Under the general heading of priorities, what happens if there is an emergency? For example, an oil pipeline breaks and there are immediate funds needed very quickly. How do you deal with that sort of situation?


  94.  Not under TACIS, I suspect.

  A.  I could not really answer because for environment at least TACIS does not have that kind of emergency aid programme. Possibly it could come under the European Union's ECHO programme, which is more for catastrophe assistance.

  95.  I do not know about the ECHO programme. Could you tell us?

  A.  This is not a programme under DG1A. It is under DG1B. It is mostly human health relief in difficult circumstances.

  96.  They have emergency funds, do they, that they can use?

  A.  Yes.

Lord Walpole

  97.  Can I ask whether you think TACIS is sufficiently demand-led? How do you ensure that the advice and assistance offered is what the recipient country actually wants?

  A.  It is demand-led. First of all, we have, as a kind of guidance for the programming issues, the indicative programmes, which are on a three or four year basis. These serve as the overall framework. These are also approved by the countries. Then we have also the PCAs, Partnership and Cooperation Programmes, which also set an overall framework. Then, the action programmes which are individual for each country and where you specify the different projects to be undertaken. This is approved by the Member States in the management committee as well as by the recipient countries. There is quite an extensive dialogue in elaborating the new projects. Also, the objective of the coordinating unit is to screen new project proposals from that country to see which fits under the TACIS criteria and which does not. They then forward this to Brussels.

  98.  Is there a coherent relationship between TACIS and other forms of development from other Member States, especially the UK Knowhow Fund and that sort of thing? Is there cooperation?

  A.  Yes, I would say that for environment we have quite a lot of cooperation and coordination. As I mentioned before, we cooperate with the USAID on the new REC process and we cooperate with the UNEP, for example, on the Caspian Environment Programme and with the Global Ecological Fund as well; in my opinion, quite substantially also with the World Bank as well as with the EBRD. For example, TACIS is providing feasibility studies for future World Bank investment and lending for environment projects.


  99.  How do you actually establish links with these other agencies? Do you have regular meetings?

  A.  Yes. There is something called the Project Preparation Committee which is also set up under the framework of the Environment for Europe process. This is an informal network for donors. All the major donors are there, with the UK Knowhow Fund as well, and the major bilateral donors like Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and so forth.

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