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Ukraine doesn’t use all the EU financing available – Tombinsky

April 9, 2016

EU Ambassador Tombinsky has stated, quite rightly, that Ukraine does not use all the EU funding at its disposal.

“Ukraine is a country that over the past 25 years has stalled in the lowest category, and therefore needs a strategy so that it can enter into the top category, and self-government is one of the elements of such a strategy where examples can be seen of the countries in which self-government was introduced in the post-Soviet era – and what it has given by way of results.  These results should be to replicated in all cities of Ukraine.

It all depends on the Ukrainians, how this assistance will be used.  You can not help someone who does not work or does not work poorly.

The European Union is helping Ukraine and aims to build elements of this government. There are nearly 180 million Euros in available programmes that have been launched in the last 5 years.  We are planning to launch a new program, but a lot of that money will stay with us because there are no Ukrainian projects on which you can use the money because those monies that have been allocated are not used.”

They most obvious question in response to that statement is why are they not used?

Why is it that local governance and local grass roots civil society are not taking the money available to them to change local governance?  Failing to take funding on offer is a most un-Ukrainian trait to be sure!

This blog regularly meets with local (and national/international) civil society groups, notwithstanding many within the City and Oblast governance.  All – to an entity – have asked about access to EU funding/grants and loans.  Their areas of interest are varied to be sure.  Human rights, democracy, rule of law, local governance, infrastructure, energy efficiency etc – but all ask about EU (and US) funding without exception and without fail.

Allowing for some truth in the fact that some of the entities may “work poorly“, there is also an element of truth in the fact that “working poorly” has many different meanings/causes.  Does it mean slipshod?  Does it mean ineffectively?  Does it mean previous failings to submit the auditable required reports to the EU on time?  Does it mean the “partner/implementation agencies” employed by the EU are “working poorly” and that those “partner/implementation agencies” are part of a funding system that “does not work” or is “working poorly”?

There may be some nuanced differences between the Oblast and City Administrations compared to those entities within civil society when it comes to how funds are allocated and how auditable reporting back is achieved.

It maybe local government structures liaise directly with, and submit reports directly to, the EU.  That is not necessarily the case for NGOs.  The NGO system works fairly similar to that of “aid”.

International Aid

Thus “partner/implementation agencies” are inserted into the mix.  They can have great influence over funding decisions, and of course they collect and collate numerous submitted reports to avoid the EU institutions being swamped with reports from entities it has absolutely no idea it is actually funding.

In short when stating “partner/implementing agencies”, depending upon the agency, these fairly large entities are simply outsourced back-office and/or project management with varying degrees of influence over those applying for funding and also their periodic reporting – at least that is what some parties tell this blog, and there is no reason to disbelieve them (especially as it has met some of those working within these appointed “partner/implementation agencies”).

For the business orientated reader, a parallel is little different to the Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 supply chain management, all designed to reduce the number of invoices a major end customer actually receives – namely only Tier 1 invoices, as Tiers 2 and 3 invoice up the chain to the Tier above.

The value added for the EU is far less incoming paperwork/reports as demanded in funding agreements, and far fewer direct management responsibilities over an enormous amount of end beneficiaries. The value added for the end beneficiaries however, is extremely debatable (if they manage to get a place in the chain at all – and who decides and who decides who decides is an issue).

Indeed, of the (dozens of) relevant entities this blog has met (and will undoubtedly continue to meet) there have been local projects and civil society entities that have received funding that are clearly of dubious benefit for society, and yet others that have represented clear benefits to society that have been devoid of any funding (and in the case of some civil society entities relying upon collective personal savings – eventually fading into nothingness when those savings run out).

Many simply do not know what funding is available or for what issues – even within City Hall and the Oblast Administration.  Many have no idea of how and where to ask for funding.  Some have simply had no response to applications.  Almost none have experience of getting EU funding, or cleverly wording applications that can effectively fall within numerous funding purses/under several budget headers.  Those that have been remotely successful at obtaining funding are not at all keen to share that knowledge for fear of competition when it comes to further funding.

Where in Odessa or Ivano-Frankivsk, or Ismail, or Chernivitsi, do you go for application advice?  How to build a relationship with the EU funder?  Why is it that the bilateral funding by The Kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, USAID, UK et al., seemingly work so much more seamlessly between those receiving the funds and those holding them in Odessa (and probably elsewhere in the nation)?

Any systemic issues on the EU side are surely not the fault of Ambassador Tombinsky – his is an unenviable job.  It must be a diplomatic nightmare to attempt to ride a hydra with several dozen heads (Member States plus EU Institutions) and still be even remotely effective.  Nobody can expect him to know what the many EU missions and their army of missionaries are doing on any particular day in any particular region of Ukraine – there are simply too many.

Nevertheless, a reader may ponder whether the EU audits those “partner/implementing agencies” over the decisions they make that effect all those they may influence on behalf of the EU.  Are refusals audited?  Are replies (or the lack of) to applicants/would-be applicants audited?  Is help in accessing information and/or funding proactively provided?  How many projects that would have worked and been beneficial to local governance have been rejected when a little creative thinking and tinkering would have then allowed them to fit the funding criteria?

The Ambassador is undoubtedly correct that the EU will still be holding far more funds than it provides, despite those funds being available.  He is also undoubtedly right that there are a lack of projects that these funds are designed to reach.  He is undoubtedly accurate in stating that some of the entities that apply “do not work” or “work poorly”.

However, the system also has its failings if so many people within City Hall, the Oblast Administration, and civil society groups have asked, and continue to ask this blog about EU funding – a subject about which it knows (almost) nothing.  (A shocking admission considering approximately 300 MEPs and European Member State Embassies are among the regular readers!)

Looking forward, would it not be prudent to actively publicise (over and above a website link) available EU funding and for what it is specifically intended?  How to apply – and specifically to whom?

With local governance being the quoted theme of the EU Ambassador in this entry, (and a soap box issue for this blog), why is there nothing in the local media?  Clearly even though these quoted public comments were made in Lviv, they are surely relevant to Odessa and every other local government.  It would be (and is) unwise to expect such comments to reach the eyes and/or ears of these local constituencies without actively pushing them in the local media they predominantly read/listen to.

There is perhaps a correlation between knowing what is on offer and what is expected, to what “does not work” or “works poorly“?

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