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French Version

2002: a record year for the MEDA programme

The year 2002 saw some remarkable progress in the MEDA Programme, which is the main financial instrument for Euro-Mediterranean co-operation. A total of € 763 million was committed, and € 685 million were paid out. Many operations were launched, both within bilateral co-operation between the EU and each beneficiary Mediterranean Partner, and within regional activities of interest to the whole region.

In addition, 2002 was the first year of implementation of the National and Regional Indicative Programmes, which define priorities and corresponding allocations over 3 years.

The MEDA Programme in 2002 was run within the new structures put in place by the reform of EU external assistance agreed in 2000, i.e. EuropeAid Cooperation Office created in January, 2001, and the ‘MEDA II’ Regulation establishing the legal framework for the Programme in 2000-2006. Over this period, it should be remembered, € 5.35 billion have been earmarked for MEDA.

EuropeAid Cooperation Office manages programmes and projects from identification to evaluation, and draws up Annual Financing Plans once multiannual country and regional programming papers have been worked out by the External Relations Directorate General (DG). Within EuropeAid Cooperation Office Richard Weber is the head of Directorate B (Mediterranean, Near and Middle East). As such he oversees the management of funds for the Mediterranean Region under the Director General. In the same Directorate José Izarra heads the Financial and Contractual Management Unit. Euromed Special Feature asked them to give their assessment of the MEDA Programme in 2002.
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Euromed Special Feature: 2002 was a record year for the MEDA Programme when you look at sums of money effectively disbursed (payments). What are the reasons behind this success?

Richard Weber: Those remarkable results were achieved thanks to the combined efforts of all our colleagues, of all the staff in Directorate B in Brussels in both operational and financial services, and of course in the Delegations. This favourable development is the product of their work. There are three basic reasons behind this progress. First of all the substantial strengthening of EuropeAid staff began to bear fruit as from September, 2001. Secondly thanks to EuropeAid the operational, financial, and contractual skills of all the Commission’s ‘external relations’ staff could be gathered together within a single DG. It’s no secret. To have more human resources and more skilled people specialising in the relevant fields necessarily produces positive results. The third determining factor is staff motivation. To have enough human resources with skills is not enough: people need to be motivated. And as a Director and co-ordinator of the whole structure I welcome the quality and motivation displayed by staff in Directorate B in their work to meet the targets that have been set.

José Izarra: As far as MEDA commitments are concerned, results have always been excellent, that is all available funds have always been committed. Maybe the difference lies in the fact that relative to MEDA I we have committed 100 % of available funds, but for new operations. It has to be noted that in the past those 100% came in part from re-committing previously agreed operations, which had been cancelled for lack of implementation, and had to be re-committed in subsequent financial years, notably in countries such as Syria and Turkey. Let us be clear that from now on when we talk about MEDA we mean the South and East Mediterranean without operations for Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta, which are now managed by the Enlargement Directorate General. We now commit 100% in new operations identified and appraised within the relevant financial year or appraised in previous years, but for which the commitment had to be postponed to the current financial year due to a lack of funds in previous financial years. We are now ahead of schedule, which in our procedures is reflected in the fact that for 2 years the Annual Financing Plans have regularly been presented earlier in the financial year. In the past the presentation of all Financing Plans or projects used to be concentrated at the end of each financial year, in the last quarter, first at MED Committee level, then at Commission level. From now on we present nearly half the projects and Financing Plans in the first half-year. This is considerable progress. We are making headway in the implementation of programming, and we are in a highly favourable situation as regards management. As to payments progress is even more considerable because in the past the main justified criticism of the MEDA I Programme was that the disbursement rate remained extremely low. As a matter of fact the payment/commitment ratio stood at hardly 25% over the five years of the MEDA I Programme. By contrast, since EuropeAid was created in early 2001 we have seen considerable progress in payments. In two years payments for all Mediterranean items we manage (MEDA + other items) went from € 479 million in 2001 to over € 685 million in 2002.

R.W.: The amount we have paid overall for the Mediterranean region since the day I took up my post on 1 January 2001 is equivalent to what was paid for MEDA I as a whole over 5 years. This is not to say everything’s perfect. But we can quietly observe that, thanks to the work of our colleagues at headquarters and in the Delegations, we have been able to catch up, and to make sure that MEDA and all Mediterranean programmes have normal disbursement rates. They have even recorded the best performance of all EU external assistance operations, at least in 2002. Phasing out the ‘burden of the past’, that is unused MEDA funds, some of them long idle, seems to enjoy a measure of success.

Can you see the end of this problem?

R.W.: Catching up on the burden of the past is the third major progress we have achieved. You know that the concept of ‘burden of the past’, also called ‘RAL’ (that stands for ‘outstanding balance’ in French), applies to each and every external assistance programme. It’s a technical concept, but it can quite simply be said that there is an abnormal RAL whenever old commitments, which date back to more than 5 years, have not been followed by payments. Our results on the payment side have improved because we have implemented the old programmes as well as the new ones quicker and better. The outcome is that the old or abnormal RAL was more than halved in the Mediterranean Region between early and late 2002. We have gone three quarters of the way. There again this is the result of our colleagues’ work at headquarters and in the Delegations. It’s true that the more projects you close down and the more progress you make, the more limited is the measure of progress that can still be achieved.

J.I.: In addition you must not get the general concept of RAL and that of abnormal RAL mixed up. The burden of the past is a perfectly natural phenomenon. It is linked to the time those projects take to mature. If the relevant project has a 5-year normal duration, it will last five years whatever the country of implementation. It all depends on the type of operation. It takes several years to build a motorway with tunnels and bridges, for instance. The notion that when you commit money you pay it out the following day is not realistic. The burden of the past also depends on the volume of funds that is being committed. If the funds decrease from one year to the next, and ever smaller sums are committed, the burden of the past is automatically reduced. Conversely, if the quantity of funds committed in a given year is larger than the commitments of the previous year, the burden of the past goes up. The average duration of MEDA projects is normally four to five years. Everything over five years can be seen as abnormal.

The payment-commitment ratio (the so-called implementation rate of MEDA activities) went up by a large proportion last year. What can this increase in efficiency be put down to?

J.I.: The payments-commitments ratio for 2002 is 90%, if you look at the total amounts. This is amazing progress compared to previous years. Here again the result is essentially due to quicker implementation, a more professional work, increased human resources, and staff motivation. The considerable effort of staff as to the amount of work done during those 2 years also has to be noted.

R.W.: I think staff in our Directorate work a lot. Activity is very intense. People in the Mediterranean Directorate come in early, and leave late. No wonder then that all the work, all the enthusiasm, and the motivation are reflected in positive results.

Improving the quality of projects was one of the aims of EU external assistance reform. What progress has been achieved in the Mediterranean in this respect?

R.W.: Our main objective is not indeed to display favourable statistics, but to put in place efficient assistance towards our Partners. I think that here also there has been significant progress. Of course this is less easy to prove as there are little or no quantitative results. Qualitative results can only be observed by going in the field, talking to beneficiaries, and noting how satisfied they are of our programmes. We have made real progress because true professionals are in charge of our projects. They know what they have to do, when and how to do it, and how to avoid or minimise mistakes that could be made by people less qualified in the fields concerned. We have significantly improved the quality of our operations, and I think the increase in the levels of overall satisfaction in the MEDA Partners that we have noticed day by day is to be put down to the additional quality fed into programme implementation.

Other records were broken in 2002 as regards contracts signed by the European Commission with partner organisations in charge of project implementation. Do you think the main challenge now lies in managing and monitoring the projects?

R.W.: I guess the real challenge is to make devolution (or ‘deconcentration’) a success. Since EuropeAid was created we have recorded very substantial results while the steering was done essentially from headquarters. We have to convert the try (if I may use a ‘rugbystic’ expression as I am from the South West of France) by ensuring that once devolution is operational records are broken. Practically all Delegations in the MEDA region will have been decentralised in early 2003. In barely two years we will have decentralised the whole region. Delegation staff now need to make sure that within devolution results can be not only as good as those we haverecorded over the last two years, but even better as everything that can be done without referring to Brussels is managed on the ground. This hangs on the same three pre-conditions I was outlining at the start of the interview: the availability of sufficient staff, the quality and training of the staff, and lastly their motivation. I am confident because the Delegations have been generously endowed with staff, and provided with all the necessary training instruments. The average quality of this staff is very high, and their motivation strong. I am confident, but it’s true that any transition period is difficult. It is psychologically challenging to go through a change in the system, and to enjoy both more self-reliance and more responsibility. There is a need to make the change a success, and to adapt to it. By late 2003 or 2004 we will see if devolution, as we hope, produces results showing improvement on the ones we have to day. If I may make a wish it is that devolution be a success for the good of everyone, and of our partner countries in the first place.

As for quick implementation of programmes and projects, another goal of EU external assistance reform, how do you assess achievements?

J.I.: Quick implementation is not an end in itself. It’s quality that counts. We also have to bear in mind that we are in a partnership. Results we get do not depend exclusively on our own work. They are the combined outcome of what Partner State services and Commission services have done. We can do maximum progress as far as the efficiency of our own services is concerned, but we cannot improve work done by partner countries’ administrations. That’s where the most significant and substantial latitude for progress will lie when devolution is
completed, I mean improving partner countries’ administrations, speeding up their procedures, and modernising their systems, so that they can work quicker and better. We sometimes face strong inertia, and bureaucratic brakes in some of our Partners. It has to do with how their administrations are organised. But I will only quote positive examples. We have two excellent Partners in this regard, Jordan and Tunisia where administrations are very efficient and very quick, and where we get excellent feedback. Others are more bent on procedures, and slower. It takes for instance more than 6 months to some administrations in some countries to approve the invoices they have received. There is real room for manoeuvre, but there has to be some awareness in our partner countries, and some will to make progress. To the extent that our means permit we will gradually implement a full training programme for officials in the Partners. We started this operation last year, but we will make a special effort there because that’s where we can make the most positive contribution. But no progress can be achieved in this field without the firm determination of senior officials in the Partners that they will make the same sort of effort as we have.

What of ‘sleeping commitments’, those projects where nothing happens for years?

J.I.: This was a real problem with MEDA I, but it is being phased out. The reason why is that basically sleeping commitments arise from insufficiently prepared projects that were put in place without any in-depth identification or appraisal. I think this problem has almost disappeared since programmes for 2001 and 2002 have been put in place, thanks to more professional services and more qualified human resources. It doesn’t mean that this phenomenon will cease to exist. It is inevitable that in a programme which comprises at least 30 or 40 projects a year some of them never mature because the environment has changed. But these sleeping commitments will shrink down to an irreducible minimum, statistically related to the projects’ environment. The real problem we have is to catch up on MEDA I projects that were not ripe enough when they were approved and set up. We have however brought down the proportion of those projects a lot, by more than 50% in two years.

What other aspects of the running of MEDA in 2002 did catch your attention?

R.W.: Since EuropeAid was created, and as a Director I welcome the outstanding co-operation that has gradually been established with our colleagues in other Commission Directorates General, notably with the External Relations DG, as the present system of dividing competencies involves much collaboration, and a good synergy in responsibilities. We also have very productive relationships with our colleagues in other DGs, for instance that of Education and Culture or that of Economic and Financial Affairs, not to mention the European Foundation in Turin for matters of training and education. We also have an active and veryefficient co-operation with international organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank, and UN agencies. Lastly I am particularly happy to note the remarkable degree of frank, friendly, and efficient cooperation that we have successfully established with the various representatives and authorities of our partner countries.

Brussels,02 24 2003
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