Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Fourth Report


CHAPTER 3: Administrative Questions

Governance

47.  The Commission's original Proposal[24] was to have a 15-member Management Board. This would comprise six representatives appointed by the Council, six by the Commission and three others, also appointed by the Commission. The latter would represent respectively appropriate NGOs, employers' organisations and workers organisations at Community level. But they would not have the right to vote.

48.  Curiously, the Commission also proposed that this 15-member Board should have "an equal representation between men and women".

49.  The Board members should be "appointed in such a way as to secure the highest standards of competence and a broad range of relevant expertise in the area of gender equality". They would have a five year term of office, which could be renewed once. The Board would elect its Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson to serve for a renewable period of one year.

50.  The Commission proposed that the Board would take the necessary decisions for the operation of the Institute. This would include approving and reviewing work programmes, in consultation with the Commission, as well as adopting the annual report and budgetary proposals and overseeing disciplinary authority and internal rules. It would submit an annual report to the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament, as well as to the Court of Auditors.

51.  The Board would also appoint the Director who would be responsible to the Board for running the Institute and accountable to the Board for the Institute's activities. It would meet at least twice a year.

52.  The Commission also proposed that an Advisory Forum should be set up comprising members from competent bodies specialising in gender equality matters, on the basis of one representative designated by each Member State as well as three members without the right to vote nominated by the Commission and representing interested parties at European level such as relevant NGOs or representatives of employers and workers organisations.

53.  The Advisory Forum should meet at least twice a year, chaired by the Director of the Institute. It would advise and support the Director and promote the exchange of information and pooling of knowledge on gender equality issues and ensure close cooperation between the Institute and relevant bodies in Member States.

54.  Initially the Commission Proposal envisaged[25] that the Institute would have a staff of 15 people rising to a total of 30 by the sixth year of operation.

55.  The Minister subsequently told us[26] that the proposed composition of the Management Board had been changed. After much discussion during negotiations, Member States had adopted a Presidency Proposal that the Management Board should comprise one representative for each Member State "alongside a smaller bureau to take day-to-day decisions". But the Commission had issued a Minute Statement registering its preference for the original Proposal for a smaller Management Board.

56.  We replied[27] regretting that the Government had apparently gone along with the Proposal to increase the membership of the Management Board from 15, as proposed by the Commission, to 25. We said this seemed to be potentially unwieldy, as well as needlessly costly. We also asked how the Board could have "an equal representation between men and women" as proposed by the Commission.

57.  The Minister replied[28] that the Government supported having a Management Board of 25 in order to ensure that Member States had influence over the priorities of the Institute's work programme. Member States had been reluctant to move away from the precedent set by other agency structures and felt that the sharing of good practice would be more effective if all Member States were represented on the Board. But the Proposal for equal representation between men and women had been dropped in favour of "balanced representation".

58.  She added that, because of the increase in the number of members of the Board and the Proposal to set up a smaller Executive Bureau, the Proposal for a separate Advisory Forum had been dropped. The Government believed that this would reduce overall bureaucracy.

59.  We asked the EOC whether the larger Board would provide good governance and how the EOC would work with it. The EOC told us (Q 22) that it would not be wise to extend the size of the Board. A feasibility study had clearly recommended a smaller Board. To have 15-30 people working for the Institute overseen by a Management Body of 25 was not workable.

60.  The EOC suggested that the views of stakeholders should be included through annual meetings or advisory boards. Following EU enlargement, it was no longer practicable to have every Member State represented on every single Board of every single EU body. The EOC supported the plan to set up an Advisory Forum, in which equal opportunities bodies, including the EOC could play a part (QQ 22-23).

61.  The Minister told us (Q 52) that the actual details of how the Board would work had not yet been finalised. All Member States wanted to be involved in the management of the Institute. Because Member States had made different progress in the field of equality and had different perspectives to share, it was felt important to allow everyone to be present at Board level. This followed the precedent set for other EU agencies.

62.  But we were told that the decision to increase the size of the Board had been a compromise as a result of negotiations rather than consultation. It was now proposed that the Board should take a strategic approach, while the Executive Bureau would have more regular contact with the Director and monitor the budget more closely (QQ 53-54). The Director would be "hands on day-to-day", with the Executive Bureau "meeting quarterly or something like that". The Management Board would set the overall direction whilst "micro-adjustments" would have to be carried out by the Director in consultation with the Executive Bureau which would have "some responsibility for the success or failure of the organisation". The Director would "feel accountable for the delivery of the agreed results within the agreed resource envelope" (Q 55).

63.  The Minister said it would be up to Member States to appoint appropriate persons to the Management Board and decide whether that nominee should be a representative of Government or an equality body. The Government had not yet decided which would be more appropriate. Nevertheless, it should be possible for organisations like the EOC to be invited to attend ad-hoc meeting of experts which the Institute "might have" to support research work and encourage the exchange of information. The aim was to have a process which enabled countries to feel that they were fully represented and that a proper management structure was in place to make sure that the Institute did what it was supposed to do and accounted properly for its funds. But at the same time all relevant bodies should be kept involved and feel that they had a contribution to make (Q 62).

64.  We are not satisfied that the management structure proposed is right. We think it is potentially unwieldy and inefficient to have a 25-member Management Board overseeing the work of the Institute which would have initially only 15 staff, rising to a maximum of 30. We regret that the Government apparently felt obliged to go along with this arrangement on grounds of precedent.

65.  Nor are we satisfied with the plan to interpose a smaller Executive Bureau, whose membership, responsibilities and modus operandi seem yet to be properly defined. We see a risk that, by tasking the Bureau to take what are described as "day-to-day decisions", the authority of the Director of the Institute would be undermined and initiatives suppressed.

66.  We also regret that the proposal to have an Advisory Forum, through which national equality organisations and NGOs could contribute in a regular structured way to the planning of the work of the Institute, has apparently been dropped. This decision seems to have been taken as a result of a Council compromise, without adequately consulting the organisations concerned. Those organisations now appear to run the risk of being side-lined and the Institute deprived of their advice.

67.  If the Gender Institute is to be set up, we recommend that the proposed management structure should be given further consideration. We believe it is essential to develop an efficient, cost-effective structure that is proportionate to the size of the Institute. We also recommend that the Government should question the practice of automatically awarding seats on the Boards of such institutions to every Member State.

68.  We recommend that these arrangements should ensure that the Director of the Institute has adequate authority, within the limits of proper accountability, and that proper structured arrangements should be made to ensure that the advice of appropriate equality organisations and NGOs within Member States will contribute to the planning and activities of the Institute.

Budget

69.  The Commission Proposal[29] indicated a total budget for the Institute of €52.5 million for the period 2007-2013. This would take account of "budgetary and human resources of existing agencies which perform the similar tasks, in particular the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia".

70.  The Government told us[30] that the budget was compatible with the Commission's proposals for the new Financial Perspective, as outlined in the PROGRESS programme[31] which was under review. But they pointed out that this would be subject to the UK's overall position that all EU activities should be funded by an overall budget stabilised at 1% of EU Gross National Income. The level of funding available for the Institute would need to be consistent with this. The Government subsequently reiterated that the budget would not be discussed until the EU Financial Perspective 2007-2013 had been agreed[32].

71.  We noted that the Department's Explanatory Memorandum[33] pointed out that the UK supported the view of the June 2004 Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council that the Institute should be "budget neutral". We observed that the Commission had not shown thus far what savings it proposed to make to compensate for the additional costs of setting up and running the agency[34]. We were told that the cost estimates could not be discussed by the Council Working Group until the Financial Perspective of the overall EU budget had been agreed[35].

72.  The EOC regretted the proposal that the Institute should be "budget neutral" and expressed concern that the PROGRESS programme would not be sufficiently funded to allow an adequate allocation for the Institute[36].

73.  While the EOC was not in a position to say what a reasonable budget should be, we were told that an adequate investment in gender equality was essential. Simply taking the funds out of overall PROGRESS programme was "just creative financial manoeuvring". The Council ought to say "we are going to invest in gender equality, so we will need to pay a bit more" (Q 19).

74.  The Minister told us (Q 42) that the term "budget neutral" meant that the money for the Institute had to come from some other source. No additional funds would be available. Some of the money which would otherwise be going into programmes would be used "to gain the learning from the actual Proposal". This did not mean that existing projects would be cut in order to fund the Institute. But choices would have to be made within the overall budget between funds available for the Institute and other future projects, which would have to be agreed by the Council of Europe and Parliament on an annual basis (QQ 43-47). She accepted that this meant that Institute's budget would be an opportunity cost on other activities within the overall programme (Q 48). But the whole question of the budget would have to be discussed in more detail under the Austrian Presidency (QQ 64-69).

75.  The Minister subsequently provided a breakdown of the proposed costs showing that the annual budget for 2007 was envisaged to be about €4.5 million rising to €8.5 million by 2013 once the Institute had reached its full complement of 30 staff. But these figures could change "according to the final shape and function of the Institute and the Financial Perspective as concluded"[37].

76.  We cannot comment on the adequacy of the budget proposed by the Commission for the Institute. Nor do we know what effect a budget of that size might have as an opportunity cost on other activities within the overall PROGRESS programme. We would want any allocation to be scrutinised rigorously and welcome the Government's repeated assurances[38] that they would insist that the Institute gave good value for money and that its activities would be effectively monitored.

77.  Nevertheless, we do see a risk that if the Institute is to be set up and not adequately funded it would be unable to carry out its tasks properly and that it would be unable to exert sufficient authority and influence. Any reduction in the overall PROGRESS programme budget would increase that risk.

78.  We recommend that, if the Institute is to be set up, it should have an adequate budget to carry out its tasks properly.


24   pp 12-15 Back

25   Commission Staff Working Document 7244/05 SEC (2005) 328 dated 11 March 2005 Back

26   pp 25-26  Back

27   pp 27-29  Back

28   pp 29-30 Back

29   7244/05 COM (2005) 81 final and SEC (2005) 328 Back

30   pp 12-15 Back

31   12143/05 COM (2005) 399 final Back

32   pp 25-26 Back

33   pp 12-15 Back

34   pp 24-25 Back

35   pp 26-27 Back

36   pp 1-4 Back

37   pp 32-33 Back

38   QQ 58-61, pp 12-15, pp 26-27 and pp 29-30 Back


 
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