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EU funding to countries that are aspiring to join the European Union must be distributed on a ‘fair share’ basis and suspended in cases of democracy and rule of law breaches, say MEPs.

On Monday, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee adopted its position on the third Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA III). EU pre-accession funds help EU aspirants to reform their political, economic and legal systems, in order to prepare them for a possible EU membership.

To become a law, the final text of this regulation has to be agreed between the Parliament and the Council of the EU.

Performance-based approach

MEPs welcome that the proposed IPA III programming framework would be based on priorities and ‘a fair share principle’ rather than country envelopes, since this will introduce more flexibility to address the evolving needs of the ‘enlargement partners’ and make it possible to reward the countries’ progress and performance towards meeting the EU membership criteria.

MEPs want the new IPA III programming and performance framework, based on the needs of each ‘enlargement country’, performance-centred criteria and the ‘fair share principle’, to be operationalised and fine-tuned via so-called delegated acts.

Tougher requirements in case of democracy or rule of law breaches

While supporting a reinforced performance-based approach, MEPs have included conditionality provisions, meaning that enlargement countries that backslide in areas of democracy, the rule of law or human rights would face clear consequences in terms of funding. They want to compel the European Commission to suspend or partially suspend the EU assistance in cases of consistent breaches by a concerned country of one or more of the Copenhagen criteria, which are the rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the EU or not.

More visibility

MEPs also call on the authorities in the ‘enlargement countries’ to do more in raising awareness about the EU funds and provide information to both local media and the general public about what the European Union is contributing with in the area.

Next steps

The text was approved by 44 votes in favour, 2 against with 2 abstentions. The EP plenary position will be voted on during the March II Strasbourg session.

Quote

“The purpose of the regulation on the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance is to replace the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance II (IPA II), which expires on 31 December 2020. To this end, Parliament has proposed that, for the following Multiannual Financial Framework, 14 663 million euros will be allocated to the new Instrument”, said co-rapporteur José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra (EPP, ES).

“We managed to highlight five key priorities such as the social dimension of enlargement policy, and we also made sure that IPA funds are disbursed in a non-discriminatory and equitable manner, taking the different needs of the regions into account. We also strengthened conditionality in order to be able to react to political developments, which allows us to suspend a country in case of breaches of human rights or the rule of law”, said co-rapporteur Knut Fleckenstein (S&D, DE).

Background

The Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) is an EU programme for enlargement countries that was established for the 2007 to 2013 programming period and that replaced several former pre-accession assistance programmes. Under the current 2014 to 2020 multiannual financial framework, the phase of the programme is called IPA II. The pre-accession funds help candidate and potential candidate countries to cope with political and economic reforms and to progressively align to the European Union's rules, standards, policies and practices on their path towards EU membership.

The proposed budget for the implementation of IPA III, which is part of the EU’s long-term budget (MFF) for the period 2021-2027, is 14.5 billion euro in current prices, with the EP’s position being 14.66 billion euro in current prices. The largest recipient of EU pre-accession funds 2014-2020 is Turkey, followed by multi-country programmes and support to Serbia.