Auditors give thumbs down to EU migration spending

By Kristy Siegfried

Migration Editor

The release yesterday of a report by the European Court of Auditors showing that EU spending to slow migration from neighbouring countries has been ineffective and poorly monitored could not have come at a worse time for the EU.

A summit in Brussels aimed at hashing out the details of a cooperation plan on migration with Turkey had just got underway and is due to conclude today. The deal will see a minimum of 3 billion euros transferred from the EU to Turkey over the next two years in return for Ankara’s help in stemming the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe.

Over the last decade, the EU has regularly channelled funding to neighbouring countries as part of its migration policy, but with migrant and refugee arrivals reaching crisis levels in the past year, such deals have taken on a new urgency and have involved ever larger sums. Questions about how exactly the money will be spent have tended to be glossed over in the rush to come up with solutions to Europe’s high stakes refugee crisis.

The auditors’ report looked at a sample of 23 projects in six countries neighbouring the EU implemented between 2007 and 2013 with 90 million euros in EU funding. They found that in two thirds of the projects, the stated objectives were only partly achieved. “This was often due to their excessively vague or general nature, which frequently made it impossible to measure results,” note the auditors in a press release.

No clear strategy

“We can’t criticise the EU for having ambitious objectives,” said Danièle Lamarque, who led the audit. “What we say is that for management purposes they should have more detailed operational objectives in order to know exactly what they want to achieve.”

The lack of a clear strategy has much to do with the fact that the EU’s external migration policy is funded by various departments and programmes, each with their own goals. According to Elizabeth Collett, director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe, this continues to create problems.

“There are all these different funding streams. Everyone is taking a very different approach and they don’t necessarily agree with each other and it makes for a mishmash of objectives that haven’t really been addressed with this current crisis,” she told IRIN.

Recent research that MPI conducted with NGOs working in the migration field in Lebanon, Tunisia and Serbia found that many had no idea how EU funding was being spent in their countries.

“A lot of funding was spent without any real understanding of local governance dimensions or political will or capacity to see [projects] through,” said Collett. “There’s a lot of top-down thinking and money spent on short-term projects with no coherent goals and multiple actors.”

The top-down approach also means that neighbouring countries often feel their needs are being ignored and, as a result, are unwilling to cooperate. “The beneficiary countries felt that many of these programmes were geared to the interests of member states,” said Lamarque.

Security approach prioritised

During the period audited, the stated priorities of the EU’s external migration policy included managing regular and irregular migration and strengthening the positive impacts of migration for development. But according to Lamarque, most of the funds were spent on managing migration flows. “So it’s the security dimension rather than development,” she told IRIN, adding, “It’s not a criticism. But the priorities were presented as being equal.”

A further cross-cutting priority was supposed to be a respect for human rights. But Lamarque said the audit found “no concrete targets or actions dealing with this issue”.

“We don’t say there was infringement of human rights, but we know from NGOs and the media that there were problems with human rights.”

The report cites the example of migrant reception centres in Ukraine, constructed with EU funding, where no training was given to ensure they were operated in compliance with international human rights standards.

More monitoring needed

In a statement reacting to the auditor’s report, the European Commission was at pains to point out the projects audited all predate the current migration crisis: “The report is not about EU migration policies nor is it an analysis of how the Commission is dealing with the current crisis.”

Lamarque agreed that the audit did not deal with the current crisis, but said the report’s recommendations were relevant, particularly the need for stronger monitoring and evaluation systems to improve accountability.

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She pointed out that the Trust Fund for Africa – a $1.8 billion euro programme agreed to by EU and African leaders at a migration summit in Valletta in November – makes use of the same hard-to-track management system as those that were audited.

“This money [for the Trust Fund] will be taken from other instruments like the European Development Fund, and a bit here and a bit there; so it’s good for flexibility and adapting to emergencies, but it’s a bit more difficult for accountability and monitoring.”

Collett commented that the Trust Fund’s action plan provides little clarity on how the money will be spent. “There are something like 100 different initiatives outlined and you can easily see how that 1.8 billion can just disappear without achieving any discernible objective.”

“Transactional” foreign aid

The EU’s Facility for Refugees in Turkey, which is to be the main channel through which funding to Turkey will be disbursed, has fairly clear aims even if the implementation is still unclear. The money is to be spent on addressing the food, education and humanitarian needs of 2.7 million Syrian refugees currently registered in Turkey.

In a recent article in Forced Migration Review, Collett pointed out that there are already several programmes aimed at assisting Syrian refugees in the region with overlapping goals.

The EU Regional Fund in Response to the Syria Crisis and the Regional Development and Protection Programme in the Middle East both prioritise establishing sustainable livelihoods for Syrian refugees in the region “yet are administered separately and with different key actors”.

“Meanwhile, the UN-led Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for the Syria region remains severely underfunded in the same area of sustainable livelihoods.”

Collett characterises the 3 billion euros promised to Turkey as part of a new era of “transactional” foreign aid that is focused on achieving specific policy outcomes for donors.

Significantly, the EU is not promising similar levels of funding to Lebanon or Jordan – countries that are also hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, but that are not key staging posts for the journey to Europe.

While the EU funding may have positive impacts on refugees’ access to schools and aid, it will be conditional on Turkey’s ability to prevent refugees from reaching Europe.