Macedonian Bankwatcher Ana Colovic-Lesoska is disappointed by how few opportunities for real public participation were provided during the European Union’s (EU) consultation on the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), the main EU financial tool to help countries in their efforts to join the Community.
Ana Colovic Lesoska, Macedonian campaigner | 14 July 2011
The Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) provides financial assistance for countries engaged in the accession process to the EU. Currently these are countries in the Western Balkans – my home country Macedonia among others – Turkey and Iceland.
The IPA funds have the potential to significantly contribute to the sustainable development of our countries, while preparing for EU entry. Unfortunately this potential often remains unfulfilled.
Five years after the establishment of the IPA, there remains little capacity of national authorities to manage properly the funds and to prepare useful projects. Due in part to this slow progress, Macedonia is facing the risk of losing part of the funding. Equally disturbing are the poor decisions about what to use the IPA funds for. For instance the current framework for these decisions, as defined by so-called Operational Programmes on the national level and the European Commission itself, does not allow for funding renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, an area in which investments are much needed in all Western Balkan countries.
Public consultations on the future IPA
The easiest way to find out what people need in our countries is simply to ask them. So this spring the European Commission organised consultations for the future of IPA after 2013, which is when the current framework expires. The consultation was in the form of an online survey to which civil society organisations and the public could send inputs.
So far so good. But apart from providing a basic form the consultation process has several deficiencies that limited people’s ability to get involved. First, there was very little promotion of the consultations and it not well organised. For example I had to inform the EU’s technical assistance for civil society organisations in Macedonia – a facility that aims at supporting civil society organisations – that the call for consultation existed. Moreover the background documents to the consultations often weren’t provided, and clearly stakeholders generally – governments, financial institutions, bilateral donors and civil society organisations – were not equally informed about the process.
Already in March, Bankwatch and organisations from the Western Balkans, including – Eko-svest (Macedonia), EDEN Center (Albania) and CEKOR (Serbia) – had asked (pdf) the European Commission to improve the process and prolong the consultation period. For whatever reason and despite numerous inquiries to follow-up on our letter, the Commission took more than three months to reply.
The response wasn’t worth the suspense. The Commission’s letter (pdf) argues that it was unable to prolong the process by more than one week and to organise civil society meetings requested by us. It also mentioned having “… deliberately restricted information on the questionnaire to IPA stakeholders as some of the questions were complex, and they all required prior knowledge of IPA’s existing structures and practices.”
It’s still unclear to me whether the Commission intended to have a true consultation process or just gather statistical and other information from just “knowledgeable” representatives. After all the IPA instrument is a financial tool that affects every citizen in our countries. A meaningful consultation would therefore mean listening to the opinions of the all, including citizens and civil society organisations.
As things stand, this consultation process was far from open, participatory or meaningful. It certainly did not help bringing the people in our countries closer to the EU and its values.
Original image CC 2.0 courtesy of Jeni Rodger.
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