Patten vigorously defends EU money to Palestine
By Honor Mahony
The European Parliament’s block on the transfer of some 18.7 million euro to the Middle East Process budget was lifted on Wednesday. After a forceful address by external relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, both the parliament’s foreign affairs and budgetary committees unanimously voted to release the money.
In a short debate heard by a largely sympathetic audience, Patten refuted the allegations made by Ariel Sharon’s Israeli government at the beginning of May that EU money was being used by Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority to fund terrorist activities. "After scrupulous examination of all the allegations that have been made, I can report to you today that there is no evidence for EU funds used for other purposes than those agreed," said the Commissioner referring to an investigation carried out by the Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Can a rock solid guarantee ever be made?
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The at times exasperated Commissioner complained that "whatever answer we give, charges are made again and again," before listing the achievements of the EU aid to Palestine which included preventing "the financial collapse of the Palestinian Authority, …which is a legitimate body." The only concession Patten made to the allegations was to ask if "a rock solid guarantee" can ever be made that all tax money is going exactly where it is supposed to go.
Laschet: more concrete projects and more controls
The short time for the debate meant that only a handful of MEPs took the floor. Of these, the German Christian Democrat Armin Laschet and the non-attached Olivier Dupuis from Italy remained critical. Dupuis urged that "EU funding should be for democracies;" while Laschet. who was the strongest in his criticisms, urged that there not be a "political message" that says "whatever happens the EU will pay," and argued for funding of more concrete projects and more controls. Patten retorted that with Palestinian ministries having been destroyed, "where can we do a project in Gaza or where in the West bank?" The Commissioner received unreserved backing from the Austrian Social Democrat MEP Johannes Swoboda, who said he was speaking for his party.
Three monitoring steps agreed
In the end, at the behest of Spanish Christian Democrat José Salafranca, who said he agreed with Laschet about the need for more controls, although he had "no suspicions about the ultimate purpose [of the money]" the Commission agreed the following controls: the strengthening of the monitoring of direct budgetary assistance, the guaranteeing of maximum transparency on the use of funds and the investigation of any new suggestions of improper use of funds as soon as they arise while keeping the parliament informed at all times.
Some MEPs still not satisfied
Although the majority of those who attended showed their approval of Chris Patten’s rebuttal of the allegations, some MEPs were not satisfied. Laschet, while conceding to the EUobserver that the agreement to keep the parliament informed at all times "was the first very little step," said there were "still many questions" and vowed to raise the issue again in the plenary session. Similarly, French socialist MEP François Zimeray said he "felt very bad" that the block had been lifted and argued that Patten "had showed a lack of knowledge about the situation" and had not addressed the issue of corruption within the Palestinian Authority sufficiently.