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16th Nov 2018

EU task force in Greece had limited influence

  • EU experts were in Athens to help Greek authorities to reform the state. (Photo: YoungJ523)

The task force set up in 2011 by the European Commission to help Greece reform had "only mixed results in terms of influence on the progress of reform", the EU Court of Auditors said on Tuesday (16 February).

The delivery of technical assistance to the Greek authorities "was relevant and broadly in line with the [bailout] programme requirements", the guardian of EU finance said in a report.

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But the auditors also found that the task force "was set up very rapidly, without a full analysis of other options or a dedicated budget".

"It had no single comprehensive strategic document for delivering assistance or for deciding priorities," the report said.

The Task Force for Greece (TFGR) was set up in July 2011, more than a year after the start of the first bailout programme, because the Greek administration, tax system, and business environment needed overhaul to absorb the €110 billion aid package from the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In 2012, almost a year after the TFGR was set up, a second €135 billion bailout programme was launched.

By November 2014, the 65-strong task force (plus external staff) had coordinated 118 projects in 12 policy fields, such as public sector reform, budget and taxation, money laundering and corruption, privatisation, judicial reform, health or labour and social security.

The TFGR was not part of the troika of creditors that oversaw the bailout programme.

The IMF provided technical support and the BCE was not involved in the task force. But the EU commission "had two faces" in the process, an auditor said.

"One was the troika, which was the monitoring. The other one was the TFGR, the helping hand," the auditor said.

Highly volatile situation

"Overall, we have mixed results," the report's lead author Baudilio Tome Muguruza told reporters on Tuesday.

Although the task force was "a flexible mechanism for coordinating a broad programme", it was "not proactive and worked mainly on demand of the Greek authorities", Muguruza said, adding that "the political situation in Greece played a decisive role".

"The TFGR faced tight deadlines derived from the implementation of the conditions attached to the adjustment programme," the report said.

"Furthermore, the TFGR had to work in the context of the highly volatile political situation, necessitating frequent adjustments of the approach and content of TA [technical assistance] projects."

Last month the Court of Auditors published another report flagging up the commission's "generally weak" handling of five aid programmes in Ireland, Portugal, Hungary, Romania and Latvia.

It also said that rushed arrangements were a reason for limited efficiency.

In the case of the Greece task force, one auditor who asked not to be named said it was lacking the "ex-ante assessment and prioritisation of technical assistance in view of taking into consideration the implementation by the Greek authorities".

Streamlining recommended

In its report, the Court of Auditors recommended that any new task force "should be based on a strategy with well-defined objectives; that technical assistance should be prioritised and operate in accordance with existing legislation; and that it should focus on strengthening the capacity of national administrations with a view to business continuity and the sustainability of reforms".

The auditors also said "the implementation of technical assistance [should be] systematically monitored and evaluated, with lessons being fed back into the process". They said a "pool of external experts" should be set up.

In their report, they noted that the TFGR had to spend a lot of time in coordination because of a "complex system ... involving a large number of member states, international organisations and EU entities".

They recommended that the number of players involved should be "streamlined" in order to "reduce the effort needed for policy coordination".

Last summer, at the end of the second Greek bailout, the task force was replaced by a Structural Reform Support Service.

The new body was a "continuation in the sense that the projects were continued but in terms of organisation it is a different entity", the auditor said.

It was set up taking into account some of the auditors' recommendations, like a specific budget.

At the end of the year or early 2017, the Court of Auditors will publish an audit of the assistance programme itself.

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