EU migration spending unfocused and spread too thin, ECA finds

17 Mar 16

The European Union’s migration spending in “neighbourhood” countries has been uncoordinated, thinly spread and "struggling to demonstrate its effectiveness”, the European Court of Auditors has found.


Attempting to examine the impact of the EU’s convoluted external migration programmes over the 2007-13 budget period, the auditors found they were unable to even ascertain their total cost, but estimated it amounted to around €1.4bn.

The auditors found that resources directed to the EU neighbourhood, which includes countries along the Mediterranean’s southern and eastern rim as well as former Soviet republics such as Belarus and Armenia, amounted to less than 50% of total spend, despite supposedly being a priority.

“This might even be considered an insufficient concentration of available funds to tackle the growing instability in the area of migration,” the auditors added.

After 2013 especially, they said resources devoted to assistance for non-EU countries fell far short of the rapidly expanding needs caused by the significant increase in irregular migration in the Mediterranean region.

Projects revolved around a large number of wide-ranging priorities, meaning resources were too thinly spread to focus a critical mass of funding on any one country or to produce significant results.

The auditors pointed out that, in a time when resources are scarce, projects and priorities should bear more relation to their limited volume and should be spent where there is the greatest potential for adding value.

Overall, they found the EU’s external migration policy is not governed by any clear overall strategy. It is supported by a wide range of financial instruments, some dedicated towards migration and some with their own very different priorities.

The objectives of these instruments were not interlinked and there was no blueprint for determining the contribution made by each one to migration policy. The auditors said it was therefore impossible to assess the degree they had furthered the EU’s policy aims.

In two-thirds of the completed projects audited however, the ECA concluded that the objectives were only partly achieved.

Sometimes this was due to political instability, or because projects were too geared towards the interests of member states, limiting the impact on partner countries.

But mostly auditors said this was due to their “excessively vague or general nature”, which made it impossible to measure results.

Poor monitoring and oversight further exacerbated this. The auditors said the indicators chosen often did not fully reflect programme objectives or measured activities funded rather than actual results. Very few had any baselines or targets.

“Quantifiable indicators were not quantified, indicators in budgets changed from one year to the next, some instruments were not covered, indicators were not mutually consistent, and they were poorly documented,” auditors said.

Overall this led to a programme lacking in effectiveness in three key areas: maximising the positive impact of migration on development; support during return and readmission; and respect for human rights.

Daniéle Lamarque, the member of the ECA responsible for the report, said spending in an area that represents a fundamental challenge for the EU will only be effective if clear objectives are set, funds are allocated to well-defined priorities and if governance and coordination between EU bodies and member states are improved.

The ECA’s report made a number of recommendations to the European Commission, including clarifying the objectives of migration policy and establishing a clear framework for measuring performance.

The auditor’s report mostly dealt with the two main financing instruments the EU used for its external migration policy over 2007-13: the European Neighbourhood and Policy Instrument and the Thematic Programme for Migration and Asylum. The latter was the only instrument for which they were able to calculate exact spend, which was €304m.

The spending audited by the court was not related to spending on the Syrian refugee crisis or events, EU actions or data from 2015, the ECA said.

A European Commission spokesperson reiterated this, stating that the ECA’s report used a limited sample that pre-dates the current refugee crisis and the Juncker commission.

“Things have changed,” they continued. “The report is outdated and does not seem to be in sync with seeking the solutions we need in the current crisis.

“At the time we did not face the issues we face now. The report is about a limited number of countries and spending in the past, none of it relevant to the current problem. Syria is not mentioned for instance, despite the fact that the crisis there started in 2011.”

They noted that since the start of this commission’s mandate the EU has stepped up its efforts and made migration a high priority.

In response to the current refugee crisis the commission has reorientated and mobilised all external action instruments towards saving lives, ensuring protection to those in need and managing borders and mobility, they added. 

The commission will nevertheless analyse the court's recommendations, they stated. 


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