By Martin Banks - 28th March 2013
Financial aid given by the EU to Europe’s eastern neighbours is increasingly coming under the spotlight. Martin Banks reports.
In the four years since the EU launched its eastern partnership policy nearly €3bn has been allocated to six countries, with the European neighbourhood and partnership instrument funding going to Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Belarus. In terms of financial assistance per capita, the bulk of the €2.8bn went to two countries, Moldova and Georgia.
According to EU enlargement commissioner Štefan Füle, such funding is designed to help support democratic and economic reforms in these countries. “This support goes not only to the reform efforts of the governments,” he says, “but is also designed to increase the role of the civil society which has an important part in the transformation.”
Since the eastern partnership (EaP) was launched in 2009 in Prague, it has funded a range of programmes ranging from roads and education to improved water facilities and climate change mitigation projects. In Moldova, for example, EU funds have been partly used in the fight against corruption and on structural reforms. The country has been particularly successful in implementing economic reforms and in 2010, 2011 and 2012 boasted one of Europe’s fastest growing economies.
The level of funding for the post-2014 seven-year spending period is currently uncertain, pending the outcome of the ongoing discussions on the EU’s long-term budget. Financing the EaP came under the spotlight at a public hearing organised by the budgets committee in parliament on 20 March.
Some MEPs, such as senior Polish deputy Jacek Saryusz-Wolski were particularly scornful of the EU’s EaP policy, condemning what he called the “self satisfaction” of the European commission and external action service (EAS) towards the six recipient countries. Saryusz-Wolski, a former government minister in Poland, said that the €2.8bn allocated to the six countries had yielded “meagre results”. “The problem is that EU aid to eastern partnership countries is too widely dispersed for the policy to be a success. There is a whole multitude of projects which, as we heard at the hearing, no one seems able to follow or understand,” said Saryusz-Wolski, a former foreign affairs committee chair. Similar concerns were voiced by Dutch member Jan Mulder, who said, “The €2.8bn going to these countries is an enormous amount of money and there needs to be a lot more scrutiny on how it is being spent.”
Another speaker, Olaf Osica, director of the centre for eastern studies in Warsaw, expressed some reservations, saying that “in four years the policy had failed to produce any tangible political or social results”, warning that, as such, the EU “runs the risk of losing momentum” in the region.
However, Marcus Cornaro, deputy director general at the commission’s DG Devco, defended the EaP, telling the hearing that the EU was “doing quite well” in addressing issues about transparency and accountability in the way EU funding to the six countries had been spent.
His comments were partly echoed by Richard Tibbels, an EAS divisional head, who, while accepting that funding was “considerable”, said the EU was keen to push ahead with closer cooperation with the six, particularly with those EaP countries which could demonstrate a “real commitment” to the reform process. Tibbels also pointed out that the EU was set to sign trade association agreements with five of the six countries and raised the possibility of financial “incentives” in the post-2014 spending period for those EaP members which were shown to have made “significant” progress in implementing reforms.
Martin Banks is a journalist at The Parliament Magazine