Select Committee on European Communities Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to the Rt Hon Ms Clare Short MP, Secretary of State for International Development, Department for International Development

  At its meeting on 10 November, Sub-Committee A (Economic and Financial Affairs, Trade and External Relations) noted recent reports that the distribution of funds for human rights work was being delayed by administrative problems. In particular, it noted that no contract had yet been issued to the European Rights Foundation, which had won the tender to assess applications for grants from these funds. The reports alleged that this delay might have arisen because of disputes within the Commission.

  The Sub-Committee agreed that I should write to ask you whether these reports were well-founded, and if so what action the Government was taking to ensure that the problem was resolved.

12 November 1998

Letter from the Rt Hon Clare Short MP, Secretary of State, Department for International Development, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 12 November expressing the concern of European Communities Sub-Committee A over recent press reports that the European Human Rights Foundation will have to cease operations soon because its EU funding has been frozen.

  We have asked the Commission for details of the position on the European Human Rights Foundation (EHRF). They have told us that in 1997 they launched a tender to identify an organisation to administer the human rights programmes, on the grounds that there was insufficient capacity in-house. The existing arrangements, run by EHRF, were due to come to an end in May 1998. The EHRF subsequently won the tender, and the Commission began negotiations with them with a view to signing a contract. However, following the decision of the European Court of Justice in June calling into question the legality of several Community budget lines, including those for human rights, the Commission decided to freeze spending under this part of the budget and negotiations with EHRF were put on hold. During July these difficulties were resolved and the Commission contacted EHRF to resume negotiations. In September however, new, more stringent, internal Commission guidelines were agreed for this type of operation, in response to allegations of fraud against ECHO, and concerns raised by the Court of Auditors that activities of the sort previously carried out by EHRF should be managed internally by the Commission. The Commission have concluded that EHRF cannot be contracted in the way they previously intended, and the Commission will itself have to take responsibility for managing the human rights programmes previously run on its behalf by EHRF.

  We are concerned about these developments. We would, however, like to hear more from the Commission before determining our position. We have accordingly proposed that this matter be discussed at a working group dealing with the Common Foreign and Security Policy in Brussels at the beginning of next month. We will keep you informed of developments.

2 December 1998

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