1. At Community level an increasingly important role is being played by European Commission delegations in beneficiary countries. Indeed, these have been given much broader authority in the planning and administration of aid programmes through a Community external aid decentralisation process that began back in 2000.
These delegations avail themselves of the collaboration of experts in project design, monitoring and assessment, and provide for the drafting of multi-year and annual planning documents and funding proposals prior to their submission to Brussels (i.e. prior to the approval of those documents by the Management Committees and the adoption of the European Commission’s decision to earmark the funds).
Community funds are employed according to various administrative modes: centralised, indirectly centralised, decentralised, joint and concurrent. In the case of centralised administration, the departments and delegations of the European Commission fulfil a series of financial obligations such as preparing and publishing calls for tenders and their results and stipulating contracts; in the case of indirectly centralised administration those tasks are entrusted to the executive agencies of the EU (such as the European Reconstruction Agency, which is responsible for implementing the CARDS programme in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and FYROM), community bodies such as the European Investment Bank, to national or international bodies fulfilling certain financial standards (e.g. member state Cooperation Agencies. Where fund administration is decentralised tasks relative to procurement are assigned, instead, to the authorities of the third country beneficiary, which can, in turn, delegate them to the aforementioned national or international bodies. Joint administration takes place through other international organisations active in cooperation (e.g. the Agencies of the United Nations). Finally, in the case of concurrent administration, budget execution tasks are delegated to EU member states.
2. As regards the role of the countries benefiting from Community aid it should be stressed that every strategy developed on their behalf is based on the principle of ownership, i.e. the needs and priorities they have expressed and maintained on the basis of a vision shared with the European Commission and EU member states. In fact, beneficiary countries maintain a complex dialogue with Community institutions within the framework of various bilateral and multilateral forums, which is summarised in the Country Strategy or in other similar documents. They also participate in various forms of aid administration as envisaged by the EU Financial regulation, with a view to decentralised administration and direct fund management.
3. Naturally, EU member states also figure among the actors involved the planning and implementation of Community aid. In addition to supporting the EU budget with their resources, member states participate in the dialogue set up with each individual beneficiary state or geographical region. And they do so by taking part in EU Council Working Groups, set up by geographic area, that meet in Brussels, as well as the coordination meetings of the EU Commission delegations and member state embassies located in the beneficiary country capitals. Member states often carry out bilateral activities in support of beneficiary countries by assigning the funds of their respective national bodies (national cooperation agencies, territorial authorities, NGOs, universities, consulting firms, etc.). In carrying out their development policies member states and Commission coordinate in order to ensure effective assistance and to avoid overlapping, duplication or wasted resources.
Enhanced within this framework is the role of the diplomatic-consular network, which cooperates on the drafting of Community planning documents as well as in monitoring the correct implementation of individual cooperation projects and coordination with other donors.
The MFA has also had to adapt to this new scenario. The Directorate General for European Integration (DGIE), in concert with the Directorates General for the various geographic areas and the Directorate General for Development Cooperation, provides information to Italian embassies and/or consulates and gathers observations and suggestions regarding Italy’s stance in the context of coordination meetings with beneficiary countries and management committees in Brussels. The DGIE also supplies officials abroad with the necessary support for installing fruitful and steady contact with the delegations of the European Commission.
The DGIE has also set up a consultation table made up of representatives from central governments, regional and local bodies, NGOs and trade unions and experts active in the sector of community cooperation.
The consultation table has a two-fold purpose:
A) To set up a permanent consultation mechanism regarding aid programmes, which involves the aforementioned actors in the process of outlining Italy’s position;
B) To create an effective network for the widespread dissemination of the documents discussed in the Brussels Committees.
The initiative has met with significant consensus, proof of which lies in the broad and qualified participation of officials, experts and professionals working in the sector of community cooperation in periodic meetings that have led to the creation of a network of Community resources.
The consultation table has become an essential forum for discussion on the EU’s external aid. The members of the table are kept up to date on documents regarding the programmes and proposals to be discussed in the Committees, as well as summaries of the meetings held in Brussels.