|Euromed Report - MEDA II : Reinforced effectiveness
|Phase II of the MEDA Programme, the main financial instrument of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, started in 2000 and will last until the end of 2006. During 2004 € 1 billion will be committed, and € 1.2 billion will be paid out under MEDA and other programmes of EU co-operation with the South and East Mediterranean.
Within the European Commission’s EuropeAid Cooperation Office, Richard Weber, Director for the South Mediterranean/Near and Middle East Area, is responsible for implementing co-operation with the region. Euromed Special Feature asked him to take stock of the MEDA Programme and sketch out the prospects for Euro-Mediterranean co-operation.
Euromed Special Feature: Two thirds into the life of the MEDA II Programme, what is your assessment so far and what do you think are the reasons behind the results?
Richard Weber: MEDA II achievements have to be looked at from different angles: financial results, quality of the programmes, quality of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and improvement in ownership. Those achievements also need to be examined in the light of the reform of European external assistance, launched under the guidance of our Commissioner Mr Patten, and particularly devolution, now completed in the Mediterranean. MEDA II is no doubt a great success. The programme has for 2 years produced the best results in the whole external co-operation budget, and 2004 will be yet another record-breaking year. We are going to commit all the funds available from all Mediterranean budget lines, some € 1 billion this year, and for the first time we are going to have record payment figures of the order of € 1.1 to 1.2 billion. Let me recall that over the MEDA I period of 1995-99 the total amount of payments (including for Turkey which back then received MEDA bilateral aid) was € 875 million over 5 years. In other words, payments under Mediterranean programmes in 2004 alone will be higher than the amounts paid out under the whole MEDA I Programme over 5 years. Very substantial progress has thus been made on speeding up project and programme implementation. These results have gone hand in hand with improved ownership by the Partners, a deepened Partnership, and better follow-up, owing to devolution. Decision-making is now mainly in the hands of actors on the ground. Improvement of the Partnership in quantitative and qualitative terms goes hand in hand with more efficient programmes to the extent that the extra work put in by our Partners, at the level of Ministries and other administrations involved, makes for an increase in the projects’ impact. Such improvements are reflected in the results of monitoring missions sent to the MEDA area. Scores are now excellent. Hardly a dozen projects out of several hundred for the year 2003 got marks which are below average. I will conclude by saying that the MEDA II Programme is fully operational. We are currently consolidating results that have been achieved. We are working to full capacity. In this regard, the very good co-operation that we have with our colleagues in the External Relations Directorate General (“Relex”) and with Delegations has to be underlined. Such co-operation is crucial to the programme’s success.
What is your first assessment of devolution in the MEDA region?
R.W.: It is an essential factor in the programme’s success. Results are very satisfactory. Devolution works. The MEDA area was the first to apply devolution. It can be stated that devolution has been a true success everywhere. It has been a remarkable success as to speed in implementation, particularly if you compare our results with those of other international institutions that have followed the same path.
What with the outstanding balance, known as “RAL” (French initials)?
R.W.: “RAL” was a huge problem for external assistance as a whole 5 years ago because of insufficient implementation of the various programmes. Among those MEDA I was one of those generating the most RAL. The problem has now been solved. The problem of “old RAL” lay in the excessive proportion of funds committed but not used in a normal time-frame. A normal time-frame has to be defined in relation to a project’s scheduled period of implementation. The average amount for projects within the MEDA Programme is around € 10 million, and the life of those projects is 4 to 5 years on average. The bad and abnormal “RAL” that should not exist thus corresponds to projects for which commitments remain partially unused after 5 or 6 years. The problem of “bad RAL” has been virtually eliminated. We have a € 3 billion portfolio of on-going projects overall, to be seen in connection to a total amount of some € 700 to 800 million of annual commitments. Thus the current portfolio is equivalent to 4 years’ to 4 years ½’s annual commitments, which correspond to the average duration of a MEDA project. Therefore there is perfect correspondence between on-going commitments and the commitments you would expect to see, considering the normal duration of projects. Bad “RAL” is now only residual, and no longer represents a major problem.
Is the current balance between the various fields of co-operation (economic, sector-based, social, and cultural) satisfactory?
R.W.: A specialist in social, health and education issues, for instance, is likely to believe one can always do more in the field that is dear to him. The same goes for an economist or a cultural expert. Anyway the MEDA Programme offers a well balanced mix of different areas, in line with the Barcelona Agreement, and the various chapters of the Partnership. The balance is there because indicative plans and national financing plans are decided in full agreement with our Partners’ governments, which are best placed to know their priority needs, considering the difficulties they are facing. There you have a very precious balancing factor. Therefore the way MEDA projects are currently distributed among co-operation areas is wholly satisfactory.
Is it now possible to say that the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is working better?
R.W.: This question calls for a qualified answer because the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is very diverse. It addresses a vast number of issues related to politics, social questions, security, co-operation, migrations, justice, good governance, the fight against drugs, the economy, trade, the Free Trade Area, Association Agreements, etc. On the political side, the objective of establishing an area of peace and security, including in relation to the problem in the Middle-East, features high among the Partnership’s goals. It is difficult to say that the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is working better in all those areas and chapters. Actually the results offer a contrasting view. As regards the issue of peace in the Middle-East, progress made is obviously not enough (if there has been progress at all), when compared to initial expectations. On the other aspects, however, particularly co-operation and the MEDA Programme, one can safely say that the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is a great success. Of course MEDA does not represent a solution to all of our Partners’ problems. Those problems are so huge, from job creation to the need to fill the income gap with Europe (currently at 1 to 10), that they cannot possibly be solved through MEDA alone. Reforms required in the economic field as well as on the social safety net, educational policies, elimination of illiteracy or the integration of women call for important efforts, complex answers, and critical decisions. They will yet require much effort, money and pains before the gap between the South Mediterranean and Europe can be bridged, including on issues related to human rights and freedom. Substantial progress has nonetheless been made since 1995, and the Partnership’s results should not be assessed by measuring the distance between expectations and achievements, but by looking at realistic chances of progress. It is normal at political level to set very ambitious targets so as to create a momentum towards the implementation of reforms that are needed at all levels. But the fact that those very ambitious objectives have not all been fully achieved should not lead one to conclude that the Partnership has not succeeded or has made no progress. You have to assess the difference between the situation at the start and the end-situation. If you look in a reserved and somehow detached manner at the situation which prevailed when the Barcelona Process was launched in 1995, and at the state of things today, my impression is that on most issues very substantial progress has been made. An awful lot remains to be done, though, on the peace process in the Middle-East. But apart from that, I believe that on the whole it can be said that the Euro-Mediterranean Process is making progress, and keeping on making very good progress, on the economic, trade, social and cultural chapters.
What about ownership by the Partners?
R.W.: It is a crucial component. Europe alone cannot generate results in the Partners, however much money it puts into the Partnership and whatever the efforts and the will it brings into its implementation. Ownership of the Process by our Partners, their populations, their leaders, at the economic, administrative or other level, forms the essential component and the prime requirement for getting results. Nothing can be done and nothing could have been done without this ownership. The results are certainly the product of the financial and political efforts that Europe has made, but above all they are the product of the ownership, the will and the energy summoned by citizens and institutions in the Partners for moving ahead.
The European Neighbourhood Policy gradually comes into being. You presented an embryonic programme within this framework to the Med Committee in July. What new challenges are there for EuropeAid Cooperation Office in those programmes?
R.W.: The Neighbourhood Policy is a willpower-based concept launched under the auspices of President Prodi, and Commissioners Patten and Verheugen. The policy contains a very broad vision of Europe’s geo-strategic position vis-à-vis its neighbours after enlargement. It offers our neighbours increased co-operation in all areas, in view of our close cultural, economic, social and geographical affinities. Against this background, the MEDA Programme forms the basic building block for the Mediterranean, which will be merged into the Neighbourhood Instrument from 2007 on, under the Future Financial Perspective. We are entering a period of preparation and evolution towards the new policy. The first Neighbourhood Projects we are implementing are designed to move forward in this direction. This is the case for the Co-operation Programmes in the field of networks that we presented to the Med Committee, which is about integrating EU and Maghreb electricity markets, creating a Euro-Mashrak gas market, and energy interconnections between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The Neighbourhood Policy relies on Action Plans negotiated by the Partners’ administrations with all European Commission services concerned. It is made along the lines of programmes we have recently put in place to support the implementation of the Association Agreements concluded with most Mediterranean Partners, and provide for an approximation of legislations. We already have on-going programmes, for instance, with Jordan, Morocco, and Lebanon, which include twinning activities. Those consist of seconding technical experts from our Member States to requesting Ministries in the Partners according to the needs they have expressed. They are officials specialising in selected areas, who will advise our Partners on the reforms and bills that need to be put in place for a gradual approximation of their legislation with that of Europe. Those programmes are preparing the Neighbourhood Policy, and so I think regular MEDA co-operation is gradually mutating into the new Neighbourhood Instrument. I do not believe those programmes are a real challenge for EuropeAid. It is a normal development, already built into our projects for the next two financial years. The real challenge is that the Neighbourhood Policy involves a much deeper Partnership, and getting closer to the people we work with in the Partners, not only at national level, but also at regional and local level. There lies the true challenge for us as the number of actors is likely to dramatically increase, which will pose organisational problems. But this is the kind of issue that we at EuropeAid are used to address, and I am confident that with our Partners and with the support of the General Directorate for External Relations and the Delegations, and thanks to devolution, we will be able to successfully deepen co-operation at all levels.