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French Version

European Commission support to the Implementation of Association Agreements

A Workshop held on December 10 in Beirut, Lebanon brought together national senior officials and European experts. As the first in a series, the workshop kick-started a process essential to the association with the EU of some Mediterranean Partners who receive bilateral aid under MEDA.

This process aims to define the main features of the programmes designed to ensure that the partner countries will be in a position to correctly implement the Association Agreements with the EU, and so make the most of them.

Nearly all Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements have now been put in place. Those with Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, and Jordan are already in force, and ratification is ongoing for those with Egypt, Algeria, and Lebanon.

They all hold the prospect of establishing a Free Trade Area by 2010.

The workshops will therefore identify areas of operation, beneficiaries and authorities in charge of carrying out activities supporting the implementation of Association Agreements. Further such meetings will follow in the various countries as activities unfold according to Annual Work Plans. This is meant to ensure that the activities keep as close to the Partners' needs as possible.

The ambition of these activities is to provide beneficiary countries' governments with bilateral aid under MEDA, including expertise and capacity which they lack for correctly implementing Association Agreements. They are part of the National Indicative Programmes (NIPs) of the Mediterranean Partners concerned whose Association Agreement is already in force or will soon be. Those activities bear different names in different countries ('Support to the Implementation of the Association Agreement' in Jordan or 'Accompanying Programme to the Association Agreement' in Tunisia and Algeria) but they essentially have the same objective. In financial terms they involve € 20 million in Jordan and Tunisia, € 15 million in Algeria, € 12 million in Lebanon, and € 5 million in Morocco. In Egypt part of the activities in question is at present dealt with under the Trade Enhancement Programme, which is endowed with € 60 million, and co-ordinated by the Ministry of Trade.

Within the EuropeAid Cooperation Office Directorate for the South Mediterranean and Near and Middle East, Marcello Mori and Catherine Colomb-Nancy are in charge of Support Programmes for the Implementation of Association Agreements. Euromed Special Feature asked them to elaborate on how such support works, in what context, and with what prospects.
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Euromed Special Feature: How do Support Programmes for the Implementation of Association Agreements work in practice ? Are corresponding activities carried out only on the initiative of Partners' governments? To what extent is the Commission also involved ?

Marcello Mori:
The programmes were designed to provide those countries with assistance in updating their legislation so as to put them in a position to fulfil the obligations laid out in the Agreements they have signed. The programmes are very flexible instruments aimed at responding to needs that can vary according to the country and to progress made in the programme. They have been structured as a demand driven framework so as to allow for their content to be adapted and agreed in the countries concerned following dialogue between the local administration and the Commission Delegation there.


How are the programmes co-ordinated in each country ?

MM:
There is a national co-ordinator, usually a Ministry, which is the authority in charge of that sort of programme. That role is played by the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Planning or the Ministry of Industry according to the country. It does not matter at all, but in most cases the Ministry involved is the one acting as the Delegation's counterpart for implementing bilateral co-operation. As a rule, every Ministry interested in activities under the programme has to select focal points which will act as a technical interface in charge of outlining each sector's weak points, and of identifying operations aimed at filling the gaps.


Who are the focal points ?

MM:
They are officials in various Ministries. They must be sufficiently senior to have a comprehensive view of the area they have to deal with, be aware of the stakes in the Association Agreement, and have a grasp of the extent to which their area has to progress to fall in line with the Agreement's provisions.

Catherine Colomb-Nancy: Focal Points are generally situated in Ministries or in other public institutions of the areas concerned. Therefore there is one or more Focal Point for each area. The co-ordinating Ministry acts through a Programme Management Unit to be set up in each country.


In Jordan's Programme, for instance, the bulk of MEDA funding goes to an 'Operational Fund'. How will the Jordanian government be able to use the funds ? Do similar programmes in other countries follow the same pattern ?

CCN:
In a first stage the funds have been granted through the signature on October 15 of a Financing Agreement by Commissioner Patten and the Jordanian authorities. The Convention allows for the release of the European Commission's contribution, which accounts for € 20 million.
Within this amount there is a € 16 million Operational Fund, which will be transferred in instalments to an account with the Central Bank. The contribution on this account will be managed by a Project Management Unit (PMU) to be set up. The PMU will operate through a second account opened with a commercial bank. The Operational Fund will enable practical implementation of operations outlined in the Annual Work Plans which are defined within the workshops on the basis of a dialogue between the co-ordinating Ministry, and the Commission Delegation in the country.


How and by whom are those programmes led? Who decides on spending ?

MM:
There is a Programme Steering Committee composed of representatives of the Delegation, and of the supervising Ministry. It is in charge of determining priority areas to be dealt with annually. Within those areas specific operations to be undertaken and funded under the Operational Fund will be agreed by Focal Points selected by the beneficiary Ministries jointly with the local Management Unit. Of course the Delegation always has a say on the selection of the field to be addressed, the type of operation, and the amount of money to be disbursed for each operation. Apart from the Operational Fund, the outstanding balance available to the country was designed to create the Management Unit and to pay for its functioning (Functioning Fund). Another section of the balance is directly managed by the Commission, and covers audit operations. It is there to ensure that the administrative part is run in keeping with Commission procedures and transparent accounting. The Management Unit includes a Commission representative who is a financial controller contracted directly by the Commission to remain in the field for the whole length of the programme.


How will the programmes' efficiency be measured in practice? Are there any criteria ?

MM:
It is envisaged to identify indicators to be defined at the same time as the terms of reference of the operation to be undertaken, in order to see the impact of each operation on sectoral weaknesses detected at the start of the programme. The level of response in relation to each indicator will be monitored during implementation and afterwards according to results.

CCN: It will be possible to assess the success of each operation also on the basis of the experts' initial work, which consists of both identifying and describing all operations to be carried out. These operations include training officials, establishing new legislation, setting up twinning projects between officials of EU Member States and the beneficiary country, so as to develop exchanges within a given area. Indicators will therefore be linked with the various stages of each operation described in the Work Plan early in the year.


Can problems arise from the great diversity in the Partners' situations as to when the respective Association Agreements were concluded and when they have entered into force? What are those problems and how can they be solved ?

CCN:
However mature the countries with which we implement Association Agreements can be, our mission is above all to set up a framework, a structure to enable those countries to go further with the operations they want to carry out in areas where gaps need to be filled, reforms to be made, and regulations to be adapted. What we do in this regard is mainly to provide them with a tool for dialogue through instruments such as the workshops and the Programme Management Units.

MM: Local structures will of course have to propose areas for action and measures to be adopted for filling gaps detected. It should however be noted that in certain fields the Commission has acquired some experience in the course of the years, and we have lists of consultants who can provide technical assistance. On the other hand there are fields where the Commission has no experience, and where such experience rather lies with Member States. Therefore we envisage putting ministries and institutions of the beneficiary country in touch with similar bodies in the Member States to deal with areas such as the police or customs. The action would be in the form of public support or twinning projects. Some EU member countries, either individually or within a consortium, would take responsibility for tackling weaknesses in specific sectors of the beneficiary administration. They would set up an annual or multiannual action plan so as to meet certain pre-identified objectives. For the twinning project the Commission thinks of using a similar approach as that adopted in the accession countries on the basis of the experience gathered by the departments in charge of enlargement. What matters is to provide the Mediterranean beneficiary country with the necessary technical support that will facilitate every step in the transition of its internal structures, and in harmonisation with European provisions. This is why the Commission does not only act through bilateral operations like our programmes, but also through regional activities which can help those countries develop trade relations between themselves, and to better adapt their situation in relation to neighbouring countries.


Is there a link between your programmes and the Agadir Process between Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia ? And with the EU' s regional activities in this area ?

MM:
Let me take an example. Jordan and Lebanon highly value the quality of produce, farm produce in particular that so far has not been exported to Europe because they do not meet the demands of European standards. Under these circumstances standards that local produce have to meet for being exported to Europe need first to be defined. In a second stage growing such produce will have to be made possible. Sanitary and phyto-sanitary structures have to be adapted accordingly for all the tests imposed by the European market to be passed. The customs system will then have to be upgraded to prevent the movement of such goods being hampered by barriers. The next stage will be to ensure the availability of means of transportation enabling moving such produce rapidly to avoid any loss in quality. If, for instance, heavy lorries loaded with Jordanian fruit have to cross a number of countries before reaching the EU, and they get stuck at each border for several days, even though the produce is of good quality and meets European standards, the prospect of such a trip might discourage those willing to export to the EU.

CCN: As a matter of fact trade agreements cannot be separated from quality improvement measures. I am thinking of enhancing sectors like fisheries or agriculture, since we live in a macro-economic system where all sectors have to be managed together. Now partner countries see gaps, even weak points in some very important areas. Let me cite the first workshop as an example. It was held in Lebanon on December 10, and featured three specific workshops. One was devoted to the main aspects of customs tariffs, another to adapting Lebanese trade legislation to new European standards while taking into account WTO rules. The third workshop addressed the subject of quality seen as identifying weak points in Lebanese legislation, and putting in place new systems through training and twinning. When quality is mentioned it is known implicitly that in Lebanon farm produce constitute one of the priority sectors for upgrading. Thus the workshops will be used firstly to identify subjects that need to be tackled and methods to be disseminated in connection with other programmes, and secondly to co-ordinate the 4 years provided for modernising Lebanon's existing system. But the same sort of concern is to be found in the other workshops, due to be held in Tunisia and Jordan in the 1st quarter of 2003.

ENCOURAGING SOUTH-SOUTH TRADE AND INTEGRATION

At the level of the whole Mediterranean region a project called 'Helping the Association Agreement signatories to develop free-trade among themselves, and with the EU' has been included in the Regional Indicative Programme 2002-2004 with a € 4 million allocation. Preparation is already under way for the project which aims at encouraging South-South trade and integration, starting with the sub-region formed by the participants in the Agadir Process (Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia). The four countries have pledged to sign a free trade agreement by early 2003 at the latest, open to other Mediterranean Partners who wish to join. Within the regional project technical assistance will be provided in various ways to help progress towards South-South free trade. This will include activities geared towards implementing the conclusions of the Euro-Mediterranean Working Group on Rules of Origin, and taking into account the conclusions of the Working Group on Services.


How are your programmes linked with agricultural negotiations provided for in the Association Agreements to achieve greater liberalisation of trade in this area ?

MM:
Actions funded under those programmes do not aim only at filling gaps detected in partner countries. They must at the same time reinforce those countries' capacity, so as to enable them to tackle negotiations due to be held with a good knowledge of the subject, and an ability to negotiate in their best interest.

CCN: I think our concern is to link up our system with everything important taking place in some sectors cited by name. You mentioned agriculture, but taxation can also be involved as well as customs and trade, including European regulations adopted in agreement with WTO. Our tools are made available to every European Union policy. Within workshops we welcome representatives of various Commission Directorates General (Agriculture, Customs Union, and others). They can make presentations of the latest developments as regards European standardisation, and put themselves at the disposal of countries looking for information, and perhaps in future also provide training and technical assistance.


How important is legislative and regulatory harmonisation with the EU? How can it compare with what EU Member States themselves have been through ?

MM:
A significant part of actions to be carried out consists of upgrading local legislation in relation to European legislation in the relevant sectors. We have to face real difficulties on the ground. Some of them have to do with the use of Arabic in all those countries, as Arabic is not so precise as English, French or other European languages. Even though decision makers are fully aware of changes their sector has to go through to adapt to European standardisation, a lot of work has to go into transposing relevant provisions by way of circulars and norms that have to be drafted in Arabic. Dissemination work cannot be underestimated, as it will be a time-consuming and resource-using task. Texts drafted in Arabic need to take into account all measures necessary while correctly defining them. Present laws drafted in Arabic address areas in a too general way. For those rules to be disseminated in every corner of the country, and to become available in words understood by the man-in-the-street a lot of interpretation and transcription work will need to be carried out both in written form and orally. A first programme may be about defining activities, and a second one about looking at transposition and dissemination within each country, once regulations have been adapted and adopted.

CCN: As regards dissemination the realisation may not come as early as the first year, but only once the system has been put in place, that it will need to be 'adopted and adapted', and that information campaigns will be necessary as we have seen in our own countries.

Brussels,01 07 2003
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