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19th Feb 2017

MEPs worried about EU development spending

  • Development money is not always spent efficiently (Photo: Andrew Willis)

MEPs want the EU to keep a closer eye on the money it spends on joint EU/UN development projects after major shortcomings were identified in control and efficiency.

In comments to be attached to the draft discharge of the EU's 2010 accounts, to be voted on in the European Parliament in March next year, German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Graessle on Tuesday (29 November) said she is "concerned about the weaknesses identified with regard to the efficiency of projects" and "deeply concerned about the fact that reporting still remains inadequate."

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She calls on the commission to implement "adequate checks on the effectiveness and efficiency of projects" as well as "adequate control measures."

The commission spends roughly 10 percent of its annual €10 billion development budget on projects run by UN staff on the ground, mostly in dangerous places. "We don’t have our own experts everywhere," explained Catherine Ray, spokesperson for EU development commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

For the evaluation of those projects, the commission relies heavily on information from the UN, but "a large proportion of reports are delayed, not detailed enough and focus on activities rather than results", according to a report of the European Court of Auditors, published in May.

One example is a capacity-building project for the new administration of Southern Sudan, where the court says 65 percent of the expenditure in the final report was declared as "previous expenditure" without providing any further explanations on the nature or content of the costs involved.

The projects themselves are badly designed, the court concluded, with 18 of 19 sample projects showing one or more "weaknesses" such as unspecific objectives or unrealistic timelines.

As a result, they often fall short of what they are meant to achieve. A mine-clearing project in Afghanistan, for example, only managed to clear an area of 1.6 square km of a projected 26.6 square km.

"The problem is recurrent and we hope that it will be solved,”"said Karel Pinxten, Belgian member of the court and rapporteur of the report.

The commission, for its part, says it is already working to solve the problem. In 2010 it agreed on a new set of reporting guidelines with the UN.

"For us, it remains the best way to reach the people," said Ray, on co-operation with the UN. "Development aid is not a scientific business."

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As the economic crisis pinches national budgets, EU member state funds set aside for development are dwindling and increasingly being used instead as channels for public cash for domestic companies and promoting national vested interests rather than poverty reduction in the poorest of countries.

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EU countries have been asked not to use the economic crisis to justify cutting aid, as donations drop for the first time in 14 years.

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