Tacis programme hurt EU’s reputation, says watchdog

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Series Details Vol.7, No.39, 25.10.01, p12
Publication Date 25/10/2001
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Date: 25/10/01

By David Cronin

THE European Commission "damaged its reputation" in several former Soviet countries by causing lengthy delays in selecting which projects could benefit from a programme worth up to €30 million a year, a probe by the Union's financial watchdog has revealed.

According to the Court of Auditors, projects which were supposed to benefit from the Tacis cross-border cooperation scheme in the 1998 financial year were not chosen by the Commission until 2000.

The time lag has been blamed on an internal reorganisation within the EU executive, which led to the new directorate handling foreign aid contracts blocking the selection process until satisfactory guidelines for the grants had been drawn up.

The delay, said the auditors, was responsible for "greatly slowing down the momentum the programme had started to build up", hurting the Commission's standing in the beneficiary states.

Founded in 1996, the scheme's purpose is to narrow the difference in living standards between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova and those found in their immediate neighbours. Stating that the programme's impact has so far been limited, the auditors note that the first large economic development project undertaken as part of it only got under way in early 2000. This involved an allocation of €1.5 million to supporting small and medium-sized firms in Uzhgorod, Ukraine.

Arguing that the scheme has been affected by poor coordination with Phare, a related funding programme for ex-communist states, the auditors also contend that no priority was given to improving the most important border crossings in the regions concerned.

For example, in 1996 only 1,700 trucks used a crossing on the Russian-Finnish border, that received €4.4 million from the programme. That number represented just 0.5 per cent of the trucks travelling across a point on the Poland-Belarus frontier, where waiting times have ranged from one to five days. Although an EU-funded study recommended that the latter crossing should be upgraded, Tacis failed to prioritise it.

The auditors also criticised the programme for funding the Krasny Bor incinerator near St Petersberg without addressing the problem of ensuring that toxic waste was delivered to its site, instead of being illegally dumped.

The European Commission 'damaged its reputation' in several former Soviet countries by causing lengthy delays in selecting which projects could benefit from a programme worth up to 30 million euro a year, a probe by the European Court of Auditors has revealed.

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