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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future