Patten threatens cuts to EU's foreign aid budget

Chris Patten, the European commissioner for external relations, has delivered an uncompromising ultimatum to the European Union member states, telling them the bloc's £7bn overseas aid budget will be slashed by two-thirds unless they give him enough staff to spend the cash properly.

The move is part of proposals to end the reputation of Brussels as a slow and inefficient distributor of aid.

Chronic understaffing has caused the European Commission to sub-contract out much of the work, often to companies that are either expensive, inefficient or even corrupt. A financial scandal in one Belgian firm working for the Commission contributed to the crisis that brought about the fall of Jacques Santer's Commission last year.

Mr Patten is determined to avoid taking the blame for weaknesses in projects that his department has insufficient resources to run - even if that means a drastic scaling down of the EU's involvement in distributing foreign aid.

Yesterday, he told the European Parliament: "We cannot go on as before. My only aim is to put the Commission into a position to run EU external aid properly and competently. If the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers agree to our ideas we can implement them from 2001. If not the Commission will be obliged to propose very big cuts of up to two-thirds to scale existing projects back [to] what we can manage properly."

Despite the vast sums spent on development and those channelled through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), Brussels has attracted more adverse than positive publicity for some of its most important work. The present backlog of commitments has reached more than 20bn euros (£12bn) and, in the past five years, the average delay in distributing committed funds has increased from three to four and a half years.

"For certain programmes," says the Patten document, "the backlog of outstanding commitments is equivalent to more than 8.5 years' payments."

Proposals outlined in a paper approved by the Commission yesterday would unify overseas assistance, create a single body called Euraid responsible for project implementation (not including humanitarian aid), devolve more work to staff on the ground and eliminate old and dormant commitments. Member states would have less power to meddle.

The problem at the heart of Mr Patten's plan is an explosion in the number of the projects EU governments have asked Brussels to administer, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The share of European aid managed by the Commission and the European Investment Bank has increased from 7 per cent 30 years ago to 17 per cent today.

The Commission was committed to no fewer than 14,500 projects and contracted to a further 30,000 last year. Extra staffing needs have not been identified, but projections suggest a shortfall of 1,300 posts.

"Where member states or the World Bank have between four and nine officials to manage 10m euros," says Mr Patten's document, "the Commission has 2.9 officials."

The estimated annual cost of sub-contracting the work to about 80 private firms, which each employs around 80 people, is 170m euros - equivalent to about 80 per cent of what the Commission spends on all its foreign representations worldwide in a year. As well, procedures are notoriously slow.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client IT Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client IT Account Manager is ...

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / Analyst (CIMA finalist/newly qualified)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / F...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of a mark...

Recruitment Genius: Help Desk Specialist

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides Reliabili...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor