MEDA fund faces one hurdle after another

Series Title
Series Details 14/03/96, Volume 2, Number 11
Publication Date 14/03/1996
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Date: 14/03/1996

WHILE EU foreign ministers meeting in Palermo last weekend declared that aid must begin to flow again into the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, their officials in Brussels continued to throw nails in the path of the Union's aid programme for the Middle East.

Thanks largely to the British desire for full control over its foreign policy, the MEDA fund for the North African and Middle Eastern countries along the Mediterranean Sea has yet to be implemented, three months into the first year of intended funding.

The UK disagrees with a clause in the proposal from the Commission which would allow a majority of EU member states to suspend funding in cases of violations of democratic principles or human rights.

Under the proposed clause, aid could be suspended by a qualified majority vote (QMV). But London maintains that such a move would be a foreign policy decision and therefore would require unanimous agreement.

However, British officials say they are close to accepting a compromise under which the political decision to suspend aid would be made unanimously and the technical decision on how to do it could be taken by QMV.

But another problem remains. In an echo of last month's infighting when the Council of Ministers said it had not received the information it needed from the Commission to give a green light to trade negotiations with South Africa and Mexico, the Mediterranean states have also been put on hold while the Council again waits for details of a funding package before giving its final approval.

A 900-million-ecu sum allocated for the region in 1996 has not been officially divided among the beneficiaries. EU diplomats say their governments have asked for a breakdown, but that the Commission has refused to furnish one.

Commission officials respond that the ministers should approve the funding before the Commission divides up the money. They add that the MEDA programme is designed to concentrate, not on country-specific programmes, but on projects promoting regional cooperation.

“The whole point of MEDA is that it doesn't fix amounts per country per period,” said a Commission source. “We are turning the page from the old system of bilateral protocols with fixed amounts.”

A third hurdle presented by the European Parliament, which wants to be consulted on aid suspensions, is quickly discounted by Commission sources.

But considered together, all these objections have made implementation of the funding programme impossible so far.

Undaunted, Commission officials say they will begin sending the money through anyway, using the old rules for previous years' regional funding as a legal basis rather than waiting for new rules.

“We have a legal safety net to carry on with the programme,” said one. “We're not going to wait for the regulation to be adopted to start.”

But even so, governments must give their approval before programming advances too far.

EU officials fear that London and Bonn will make sure there is no accord soon because they want to take the unanimity-QMV debate to the Intergovernmental Conference, where it could be hanging for months.

In the meantime, remaining funds from last year are still trickling across the Mediterranean to its southern banks. But they will not last forever.

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