Recently a number of very concerning articles have been published in the media about EU aid. They are based on an informal document prepared by an MEP, which has not been agreed on by the Parliament. I wanted to respond on the criticisms being made in this document, and above all to point out that the key premise of the articles, that ‘’every second euro spent by the EU on development aid does not achieve what it pays for’’ is simply not true.
This statement is based on the so-called 'External Assistance Management Report' (or EAMR). This is an annual internal management tool created by the heads of EU Delegations across the world that identifies potential difficulties and delays in the implementation cycle of the EU development cooperation projects while they are ongoing. It helps the European Commission services in taking corrective measures when current difficulties in the implementation procedure or the achievement of the objectives are reported.
The EAMR is a snapshot of the situation of each ongoing project at the end of the year. It does not measure the final result of the project and therefore it cannot be taken as an evaluation tool for assessing final effectiveness and outcome of the accomplished EU development projects in our partner countries or of its eventual compliance with the financial rules.
Having these facts in mind, I would say that MEP's document and media comments are based on completely wrong if not ill intended presumption that all projects that encounter some difficulties or delays at certain point of its implementation shall irrevocably fail at the end of the road.
I'd like to take a moment here to respond in more detail to some of the specific criticisms being made. This is quite technical and detailed information, so please bear with me, but I feel it's important to correct the inaccuracies which are being communicated on our work.
'EAMRs' are not available'. This is not true – all reports for 2014 were transmitted officially to European Parliament. However, they are for internal use, and not disclosed to the public. That is why you won't find them on the European Commission's website.
'The overall performance of delegations has worsened'. Again, not true. In fact, performance has remained stable. On several KPIs, improved results have actually been achieved – for example the percentage of projects with red traffic lights (regarding the implementation of activities and achievement of their objectives) has decreased.
'Delegations would need up to 27.5 years to liquidate the 'RAL'. In a nutshell, RAL stands for 'Reste à Liquider' – the difference between the total financial amount of projects decided and the actual payments made for those projects. In a way, it represents the outstanding projects still to be implemented, so it's normal that the liquidation of the RAL would then take several years. RAL absorption provided in this report is a snapshot of each delegation at the end of the year. It can be exceptionally high at one time (as a result of a combination of high financial amounts committed during the year - for example, during an emergency) but in such cases, it quickly improves as the amount of payment will increase month after month. When dividing the RAL amount at the end of 2014 by the annual amount of payment made during the year, it represents an implementation period of less than 4 years which is perfectly normal, taking into account the fact that many EU projects are run over a number of years. Crucially, this would never result in extra money to be paid by European tax payers, as some papers have suggested.
'Project implementation is seriously delayed and will miss objectives'. Again, this is not correct. This EAMR is like a snapshot of the situation of each project at the end of the year. The actual impact of the identified difficulties can only be assessed at the end of the project. In fact, only 4% of ongoing projects were assessed as having 'serious problems' (ie they received a red flag in the traffic light scheme) – that's 152 out of 3418 projects. Even for those few projects, corrective actions are foreseen to produce a positive outcome by the end of the implementation period.
'Only 10 out of 915 projects are subject to Results Orientated Monitoring' The Commission's Results Orientated Management, or ROM as it's known, was thoroughly revised in 2014 and a new contract was signed at the end of the year. That is why only a limited number of ROMs were carried out in 2014. A significant increase in the number of projects to be 'ROMed' is therefore expected for 2015.
'Insufficient audit contracts were signed' A total of 532 contracts were signed – out of 888 audits foreseen in the annual audit plan. This represents an implementation rate of 59.9% (just under the 60% benchmark) and further contracts were signed in 2015. The few remaining contracts will be signed this year (in line with the three year plan.)
I hope that this goes some way to explain that there is little substance in many of the articles that you will read. Of course, to some extent, risks cannot always be avoided in development cooperation, due to the very nature of the environments we operate in. The EU is committed to helping the world’s poorest people, many of whom live in fragile countries - we're talking about countries truly in need such as Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic or Haiti, which have been affected by conflicts or natural disasters. In countries like these, external factors like war, disease, and partners' own capacities inevitably have an impact on the EU's development cooperation.
Despite the sometimes difficult context we operate in, EU development assistance is achieving very significant results. The figures speak for themselves. For instance, since 2004, thanks to EU support 22.6 million insecticide-treated bednets have been distributed, 74 million people have been connected to improved drinking water, and 7.5 million births were attended by skilled health personnel.
EU taxpayers can rest assured that accountability of EU aid remains extremely high. External Aid projects are closely monitored on both operational and financial aspects. The European Commission is under strict scrutiny from the European Parliament, the 28 Member States and the Court of Auditors. New audit and verification procedures have been implemented to track every euro spent, so that we can check actual results against expected results.
The sometimes unavoidable risks attached to development are not a reason to do nothing. What matters is that our work brings results for local people. We will continue to do all we can to ensure that EU supports gets to those who desperately need it.