Brussels, 20 September 2007
IPA - EU financial assistance to make a difference in the candidate and potential candidate countries
Opening speech at the Seminar on the IPA Framework Agreement SPEECH/07/557
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to welcome you to this seminar on the implementation of the new Instrument for Pre- Accession – IPA, today and tomorrow. And I am particularly honoured that so many representatives of the authorities of all IPA beneficiary countries accepted our invitation.
Your presence is in itself a very positive signal of your keen interest in discussing the opportunities that EU pre-accession assistance can bring to your countries. It shows your will and determination to tackle the challenging task related to IPA implementation in the most constructive and efficient way.
As you know, ownership by the beneficiary country is key to any successful use of EU funding. By being here with us today, you already demonstrate that ownership and interest for an efficient use of IPA are there, in the Western Balkans as well as in Turkey. This is a very encouraging sign that, together, we can make the best possible use of the available EU envelope for the region, for the benefits of all its citizens.
As you know, the challenge is no small and the matter sometimes complex. This is one of the reasons we decided to convene this gathering today on the framework agreement to be signed by your countries for the implementation of IPA: a rather technical document on the one hand I confess, but so fundamentally important to set the basis of our further contractual relationship!
I see this seminar as a unique opportunity for you to put forward all your questions in a frank and open manner. Please do not hesitate to cast all your queries or doubts. A lot of experts from the Commission are available to provide you with the most comprehensive information.
But before letting you enter into the subtleties of EU financial management, I would like to say a few words on the leverage a smart use of EU funding can bring all over the pre-accession process.
The historical enlargements of 2004 and 2007 have been a great success story. We are every day witnesses of their positive impact, not least on the economic scene. The new Member States have integrated smoothly into the European Union. Slovenia already joined the Euro last year and Malta and Cyprus are completing preparations for adopting the Euro next year.
Last December, the European Council decided to consolidate our enlargement agenda. A renewed consensus on enlargement was reached relying on the principles of consolidation, conditionality and communication. By the day of their accession, acceding countries must be ready and able to fully assume the obligations of Union membership. The pace of the accession process directly depends on the reforms of each negotiating country.
All along the previous enlargement process, the various political and technical instruments the Commission made available provided an invaluable support for the thorough preparation by the countries for their subsequent EU membership. Amongst them, financial pre-accession assistance played a specific supporting role in strengthening the administrative capacity of the countries, allowing them to ripe the full benefits of their integration.
It is our wish to make you fully benefit from the lessons learned under previous programmes. IPA aims at providing, through concrete programmes and projects, all assistance required for a full implementation of the EU legislation by the candidate and potential candidate countries, in compliance with the accession criteria. It is a tool targeted to the direct benefit of the citizens of the Western Balkans and Turkey.
Programming and implementation of activities are aimed at being more efficient and flexible than under its predecessors. Support will be granted in a differentiated way depending on your countries’ status as candidate or potential candidate country, the political and economic context, specific needs and your administrative capacities.
IPA now creates a single, unified financial instrument for pre-accession assistance and this for the whole period of the financial framework from 2007 till 2013. It also includes key elements of the structural funds mechanisms and of the common agricultural policy. Our assistance will therefore help prepare for participation in the EU’s cohesion policy and rural development instruments in a more straightforward manner.
IPA will also help strengthen ties with neighbouring countries, including EU Member States, through cross-border co-operation projects. Besides the country-specific approach, a multi-beneficiary programme will support joint projects by several countries in several areas of intervention.
In a learning curve process, we expect national administrations to increasingly assume ownership of programming and take over responsibility of implementation of activities.
The objective is therefore to entrust your administrations with the management of EU funds over time with progressive decentralisation of EU aid. Decentralised implementation makes pre-accession assistance more effective. In addition, decentralised management must be seen as a learning process by itself for your countries. This will eventually lead to the management of large amounts of EU funds, once you become a Member State.
Therefore, the IPA regulatory framework provides for detailed rules concerning the responsibility of each actor involved in the management of funds and the structures to be put in place by your administrations.
In order to appropriately accompany the process of decentralisation in the Western Balkan countries, the Commission has decided to strengthen the administrative capacity of its Delegations in Belgrade, Podgorica, Pristina and Skopje. This goes together with a gradual transfer of responsibilities from the European Agency for Reconstruction to the Delegations in 2007 and 2008.
The parallel phasing in of the Delegations and phasing out of the Agency should ensure a successful start of IPA while continuing the smooth implementation of the remaining CARDS programmes. EC assistance can thus be delivered to the region without disruption.
This would not be possible without the work performed by the European Agency for Reconstruction. Its achievements are widely recognised and highly appreciated. They have contributed significantly to the move from reconstruction aid to pre-accession assistance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my clear conviction that the ultimate goal of all programmes and projects we will finance under IPA will be the benefit for the citizens of your countries.
Allow me to underline the importance we attach to the visibility of the IPA assistance. I will never insist enough on the importance of rallying the public opinion in all countries to our joint project, the prospect of a future accession to the EU. Without our citizens, there is no such political project!
By ensuring visibility of EU support, by communicating to your people how EU financial assistance can make a difference for them, in their everyday life, you are key actors of our political strategy.
You can ensure public awareness of EU action in your countries. In your functions as political and administrative stakeholders in your countries, you are best placed to explain to your citizens what the approximation process of your country to the EU is about, and that your institutional reforms finally lead to concrete results on the ground. I rely on you and your authorities to value this.
To that purpose, let me mention that the new instrument also includes assistance for information and communication activities, on our programmes and projects in particular, as well as on what the EU stands for in general.
But besides these technical instruments, first and foremost, we need your commitment and support in order to make our assistance as visible and understandable to the people as possible.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you a very fruitful, as well as pleasant seminar. I am looking forward to a fruitful co-operation under IPA.