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Press release

International Fund for Ireland: EP favours continued EU funding, but with new legal basis

Regional policy - 13-12-2006 - 14:08
Plenary sessions
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The EU should go on contributing €15 million per year to the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) until it is wound up in 2010, but Parliament should have co-decision powers over this funding, rather than merely being consulted. This was the message that came out of Parliament's plenary vote on a report by Jim Higgins (EPP - ED, IRL), on Wednesday 13 December, which recommends changing the IRI's legal basis.

The change, from Treaty Article 308 (a common market catch-all clause) to Article 159, indent 3 (structural funds) would not halt the flow of funds to IFI projects already under way in Ireland. But it would make the co-decision procedure applicable, thus assigning a stronger role to Parliament than Article 308 (which provides for unanimity in the Council and only a consultation of Parliament).
The change in the IFI's legal basis was proposed by the EP Regional Development Committee on 23 November, on the Legal Affairs Committee's advice that the IFI's predominant aim of fostering sustainable economic and social improvement points unequivocally to Article 159 as the only possible legal basis.
The €60 million total proposed for the IFI is in addition to the €200 million which will be allocated through European regional policy to the programme for Peace and Reconciliation (PEACE programme).
The report by Jim Higgins (EPP - ED, IRL), was approved in plenary by a large majority and the vote to change the legal basis was approved by 419 votes in favour to 121 against, with 12 abstentions.  Mr Higgins said: "To date the International Fund for Ireland has contributed €803m of funding and has leveraged a further €1.46bn in supporting 5,700 projects and the creation of 55,000 direct and indirect jobs. It has also played a crucial role in easing sectarian tensions and bridging divisions between the two traditions on the island. The guns are now hopefully permanently silent and the economy of Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of the South are beginning to realise their true economic potential. This will be the last time that we will ask the EU for funding for this programme as the International Fund will cease in 2010. We have had many false dawns in the past regarding a permanent political solution in Northern Ireland. However, my Irish colleagues and I are confident that we are on the brink of a lasting solution and that a devolved government will become a reality in the near future."
The European Community has contributed to the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) since 1989, three years after its establishment by an agreement between the governments of the UK and Ireland. At the end of 2006 EU support will represent about 57% of annual contributions, making the EU the major donor to the fund.
The IFI complements the EU programmes for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland ("PEACE I" 1995-1999, "PEACE II3 2000-2006 and "PEACE III" 2007-2013).
REF.: 20061211IPR01365