Reaction to the Open Europe Report
On numerous occasions since the beginning of the year, whether in the European Parliament or to the 27 European Foreign Ministers, both the High Representative and the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood policy have emphasized the need to draw lessons from the past, rise up to the challenges faced in our Neighbourhood and in particular address the consequences of the Arab Spring.
This shared commitment led to the adoption of the EU’s 8th March Communication “A partnership for shared prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” aimed at addressing these shortcomings. This package made a number of proposals, most of which have actually been taken up two months later in the Open Europe report’s recommendations of the 8th May.
As the Open Europe report points out itself, quoting from a speech made by Commissioner Stefan Füle in the European Parliament, the EU recognized already in February that it could have exercised more pressure on authoritarian regimes in the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood to deliver on democratic reforms and that certain mistakes were made in the past in the European Neighbourhood policy (ENP).
- An important part of our cooperation has focused on social and economic development (creation of or support to primary, secondary and university education, development of the private sector etc.). Evaluations have shown that this has facilitated openness of society and an awareness of opportunity that have contributed to creating the climate where the recent revolutions were possible.
- The European Commission has funded civil society to a large extent. The figures are also public and the relevant instruments well known. Just for the instrument for action on Human Rights and Democracy (EIDHR), which has generally only funded civil society, 14 programmes were developed for a total of 141 M€ for Southern Mediterranean and Middle East from 2007 to 2010. The Commission shares the view of Open Europe that support for and engagement with civil society need to be stepped up, and this is one of the key conclusions of the Communication of 8 March.
- With regard to Libya, it should be noted that, contrary to what is stated in the Open Europe report, the EU has never “opened” an association agreement with Libya. It launched negotiations in 2008 aiming at an ambitious agreement in all sectors including in governance and human rights, but these were not progressing and were far from being concluded when they were suspended in February. Most of the aid of 60M€ foreseen over 3 years was not intended for the government. In the first 2 of the 3 sectors it targeted (HIV aids, support to small and medium enterprises, fight against illegal migration), this was only earmarked for civil society. On the figure of 10 M€ spent in order to fight against illegal migration, the European Commission deems that retrospectively this spending was particularly pertinent given the current situation in the southern borders of the EU.
-On the reports allegations regarding aid to Occupied Palestinian Territories, the funds of €39.950.000 are not "missing". They were paid by the European Commission directly and traceably to the beneficiary (Jerusalem District Electricity Company) and not to the Palestinian Authority. All invoices were approved according to the procedures laid down in the Financing Agreement with the Palestinian Authority. These invoices were then independently audited in order to verify their authenticity, accuracy, validity and eligibility and relation to the goods and services actually provided. It must be noted that the international audit firm responsible for verifying all payment documents was able to confirm that all claims submitted for payment were eligible. In accordance with standard procedures, copies of all documents are required to be retained for verification purposes, including by the Court of Auditors, for a period of seven years. The evaluators were given access to the Commission's financial records system for contracts in the external relations field (CRIS). It is therefore difficult to say why they could not find this data which was available for them. The European Commission stresses that it has a robust system in place ensuring that funds are correctly used. This is based on strict expenditure verification by international accountants. The European Commission is fully satisfied that the 40M Euros mentioned in the Open Europe report were correctly used and that there is no possibility that they could have been used in any way to “further destabilise the area”. The comments quoted in the report were made by independent evaluators based on incomplete information. PEGASE (and its predecessor TIM), the system set up for the provision of support to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, based on transparent and thorough audits, has been used by several other donors in particular EU Member States (including the UK) to channel their aid.
While the EU has and will always encounter difficulties with countries led by authoritarian governments, there are recent examples in the case of Tunisia which demonstrates what can be achieved by the EU with neighbours who wish to progress on the path towards democracy and the value of the EU as a partner. No EU member state can make a country seek to accede to the Rome statute. After the EU raised this with the Tunisian provisional government, it decided on its accession to the Rome statute on 19 February. No single member state can convince a country to abolish the death penalty, promote a free press or seek to establish an independent judiciary, the EU included these on its partnership agenda who the same Tunisian authorities who took these up. Two member states failed in their efforts to negotiate an effective mobility partnership, reducing illegal migration with Tunisia, where the European Commission has managed to progress on this. The EU is able to achieve what other international stakeholders cannot.
There has been a sea change in the EU’s southern Neighbourhood. More still needs to be done. Both the High Representative Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Füle are highly committed to addressing the challenges the EU faces in its Neighbourhood. The European Neighbourhood Policy Review which they have jointly launched aims precisely at defining an ambitious answer, amongst others, to the Arab Spring. They are working hand in hand towards that goal, share the same policy view and are putting together the final touches to a renewed policy which will address the shortcomings identified. This is one of the great challenges for this Commission and the EU is confident it can rise to it.