REPORT on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2015, Section X – European External Action Service

30.3.2017 - (2016/2160(DEC))

Committee on Budgetary Control
Rapporteur: Benedek Jávor

Procedure : 2016/2160(DEC)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected :  
A8-0122/2017
Texts tabled :
A8-0122/2017
Texts adopted :

1. PROPOSAL FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT DECISION

on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2015, Section X – European External Action Service

(2016/2160(DEC))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2015[1],

–  having regard to the consolidated annual accounts of the European Union for the financial year 2015 (COM(2016)0475 – C8‑0278/2016)[2],

–  having regard to the Court of Auditors’ annual report on the implementation of the budget concerning the financial year 2015, together with the institutions’ replies[3],

–  having regard to the statement of assurance[4] as to the reliability of the accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions provided by the Court of Auditors for the financial year 2015, pursuant to Article 287 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 314(10) and Articles 317, 318 and 319 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002[5], and in particular Articles 55, 99 and 164 to 167 thereof,

–  having regard to the Special Report No 07/2016 of the European Court of Auditors: “The European External Action Service’s management of its buildings around the world”,

–  having regard to Rule 94 of and Annex IV of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control and the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (A8-0122/2017),

1.  Grants the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European External Action Service for the financial year 2015;

2.  Sets out its observations in the resolution below;

3.  Instructs its President to forward this decision and the resolution forming an integral part of it to the European External Action Service, the European Council, the Council, the Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Court of Auditors, the European Ombudsman and the European Data Protection Supervisor, and to arrange for their publication in the Official Journal of the European Union (L series).

2. MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

with observations forming an integral part of the decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2015, Section X – European External Action Service

(2016/2160(DEC))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2015, Section X – European External Action Service,

–  having regard to Rule 94 of and Annex IV to its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control and the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (A8-0122/2017),

A.  whereas in the context of the discharge procedure, the discharge authority stresses the special importance of further strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the institutions of the Union by improving transparency and accountability, implementing the concept of performance-based budgeting and good governance of human resources;

1.  Welcomes that, according to the Court of Auditors (the “Court”), the overall level of error in Heading 5 (Administration), including the budget of the European External Action Service (EEAS), continues to be relatively low with an estimation at 0,6 % in 2015;

2.  Takes note that the Court identified no significant weaknesses as regards the annual activity report and the internal control system of the EEAS;

3.  Calls on the EEAS to remedy certain weaknesses found by the Court in the recruitment procedures of local agents in delegations (i.e. a lack of transparency as regards certain steps of the procedure) and in procurement procedures (notably incorrect appraisals of offers compared to technical specifications or use of the incorrect procurement procedure) organised by delegations;

4.  Agrees with the Court that improving the guidance, the design, coordination and execution of public procurement procedures for low value contracts is of importance as those contracts represented 4,5 % of the total value of contracts concluded in 2015; supports the intention of EEAS to hold regional seminars and provide administrative procurement support for the entire network of delegations;

5.  Calls on the EEAS to improve the quality of its selection procedures by integrating all the necessary supporting documentation; asks the EEAS to better harmonise the procurement procedures carried out in the delegations; reiterates its request to remedy the recurring weaknesses in this area by continuing the administrative support to the delegations where the situation is the most critical;

6.  Welcomes the fact that improved and more comprehensive guidelines reinforcing the supervision of the heads of delegations, covering both the accountability and reporting requirements, have been issued in the framework of the exercise of the External Assistance Management Report (EAMR) for 2015;

7.  Regrets the increase of the average rate of anomaly on commitments to 22,4 % in 2015 (compared to 18,3 % in 2014) at the level of ex ante controls;

8.  Notes that the total budget of the EEAS for 2015 was EUR 602,8 million, representing a total increase of 16,2 % compared to 2014, which resulted from the transfer to its budget of EUR 71,5 million from the Commission’s administrative budget (EUR 25,2 million) and from other budget lines (up to EUR 46,3 million) to finance the common costs of the Union’s delegations such as rents, offices’ security and IT costs; observes that EDF funds were not included;

9.  Points out that the execution of the EEAS administrative budget remains a point of concern as certain delegations receive budget contributions from the Commission from 33 different budget lines in addition to the EEAS’s own budget; invites all the stakeholders to further refine and simplify the budget sources and arrangements in order to ease the budgetary implementation; welcomes the recent budgetary arrangement found with regard to the EDF administrative costs, which will be charged to the EEAS budget as of 2016 on the basis of a calculation of a standard amount per person;

10.  Takes note that the headquarters budget amounted to EUR 218,9 million out of which EUR 140,5 million (or 64,7 %) concerned the payment of salaries and other entitlements of statutory and external staff, EUR 30 million (or 13,7 %) were for buildings and EUR 30,7 million related to IT systems, equipment and furniture;

11.  Notes that the delegations’ budget of EUR 383,9 million was divided between EUR 155,8 million (i.e. 40,6 %) for buildings and associated costs, EUR 105,5 million (27,5 %) for the remuneration of statutory staff, EUR 60,1 million (or 15,7 %) for external staff and outside services, EUR 20,6 million (5,4 %) for other expenditure related to staff and EUR 41,9 million (10,9 %) for other administrative expenditures; notes also that EUR 204,7 million was received from the Commission for the administrative costs of the Commission’s staff posted in the Union’s delegations;

12.  Reiterates its request to pay attention, especially in delegations, to ‘business continuity’ and ‘document management’ as key internal control standards but also as significant management components, particularly for the availability and reliability of information used for various management purposes, i.e. the monitoring, assessment and reporting of activities and projects;

13.  Observes that only two delegations made reservations related to the lack of a proper tendering procedure and missing key management information to be used for the statement of assurance;

14.  Supports the regular contacts between the EEAS and the Commission services dealing with external matters on the prevention and detection of fraud;

15.  Supports the setting up of the Regional Centre Europe, which is an initiative aimed at providing better administrative assistance to the Union’s delegations in the domains of financial management, procurement and human resources; looks forward to receiving the evaluation of the pilot project in 2017; encourages the EEAS to continue this practice of pooling know-how as appropriate in other regions with a view to steadily reducing administrative burden and costs in delegations;

16.  Considers it essential that the heads of delegations continue to be regularly made aware of their key-role in the overall strengthening of assurance, management and accountability, in particular as regards the weighting of various components likely to trigger the issuance of a reservation, in addition to their political duties; encourages the EEAS to offer training and expertise to the heads of delegations, especially to Member States’ diplomats;

17.  Observes the changes and streamlining in the organisation of the EEAS to simplify the reporting lines and information flows facilitating the EEAS formulation of responses to crises or political challenges and to reduce the level of hierarchical layers with fewer directorates;

18.  Recognises the critical feature of the management of human resources in the context of the EEAS with ‘three sources’ of recruitment, the management of the posting in delegations while achieving the annual staff reduction representing 17 posts for 2015 in headquarters;

19.  Notes that the share of Member States’ diplomats represents 32,9 % of the EEAS overall AD staff (i.e. 307 persons) in comparison to 33,8 % in 2014; points out that this proportion is higher in delegations with 43,1 % or 166 Member States’ diplomats and 25,7 % in headquarters; calls for a more balanced distribution of staff and reminds the EEAS of the importance of pooling expertise of Member States and EEAS staff at every level;

20.  Stresses that the number of Member States’ diplomats posted as heads of delegations was 63 out of 134 heads of delegations posts, representing 47 % of the total; points out that those 63 posts were distributed with an unequal gender balance of 16 % / 84 %, and only 16 out of the 63 were nationals of Member States which joined the Union in 2004 or later; notes also that within the 29 deputy heads of delegations, the genders were represented with an imbalance of 24 % / 76 %, and that 6 of the deputy heads of delegations were Member States’ diplomats;

21.  Observes that the number of seconded national experts from Member States continued to increase in 2015 (8 % more compared to 2014) to reach 434 (with 376 posted in headquarters and 58 in delegations); notes that 40 % of the 376 seconded national experts (or 151) located in Brussels were paid by their national administrations;

22.  Reminds the EEAS of the need to ensure full respect of the staffing formula on the ratio between staff coming from Member States and from Union institutions, as set out by the Council Decision establishing the EEAS;

23.  Notes that the general distribution by gender is almost reaching parity with a balance of 47 % / 53 % in the overall staff, while on the AD level staff the difference is 31,7 % / 68,3 % (compared to 31 % / 69 % in 2014); observes that this 30 % proportion is stable since 2011;

24.  Reiterates its concern about gender imbalances in management positions as the level is currently at 21,4 % / 78,6 %; regrets that the ratio of the other gender applying to management positions remains at the low level of 16 %; considers that progress is important in this regard and calls therefore on the EEAS to reshape its conditions and recruitment policies in order to attract both genders equally for management positions;

25.  Reiterates that geographical balance, mainly the relationship between staff nationality and the size of Member States, should be an important element of the EEAS human resources management, particularly with respect to the Member States that have acceded the Union in 2004 or after; is seriously concerned about the continuous underrepresentation of those Member States at both staff and management level; calls, therefore, on the EEAS to endeavour to correct that situation significantly; stresses that those Member States are especially underrepresented at the higher level of administration and in managerial posts, for which significant progress is still awaited;

26.  Welcomes the commitment of the Vice-President/High Representative made to Parliament to address the existing imbalance with an overrepresentation of national diplomats in the positions of heads of delegations, and calls on the EEAS to present a review of its human resources policy in the course of 2017, addressing issues such as gender balance and mobility of staff between institutions, while taking also into consideration its impact in terms of human resources for the strengthening of the Union ‘external action and visibility through the Union global strategy’;

27.  Encourages the EEAS to further develop the role of Union delegations, particularly facilitating and supporting coordination between Member States in providing consular assistance;

28.  Reminds the EEAS that there is a silver lining between economic diplomacy and lobbying; calls therefore on the EEAS to join the future Inter-Institutional Agreement on a Mandatory Transparency Register, including for the Union delegations, insofar as this is legally possible;

29.  Takes note of the annual expenditure of EUR160 million devoted to the Union’s delegation network, which represent more than a 50 % increase compared to the preceding financial year; notes that 80 % of the delegations are still rented, the rents amounting to EUR 53,04 million in 2015; welcomes the loan facility of EUR 200 million for better managing the building policy and reducing the purchasing costs of delegations; regrets that despite the loan facility and the increase in expenditure only a few delegation buildings are owned by the EEAS; calls on the EEAS to present not only the delegation building contracts of the current year but to provide also an overview of the situation of all delegation buildings in its annual activity report;

30.  Calls on the EEAS for an overhaul of its building policies in line with the recommendations made by the Court of Auditors in its Special Report No 07/2016, in particular concerning:

-   the need for consistency and full costs recovery of the charges paid by Member States or other Union institutions or bodies hosted in delegation office buildings;

-  the improved selecting of delegation buildings;

-  direct involvement of headquarters before renting (or renewing a rental agreement) or buying office buildings;

-  the improvement of its real-estate management information system, in order for the EEAS to obtain more reliable and relevant information to feed into its planning process;

31.  Calls on the EEAS to further develop the use of surfaces, in particular by addressing as a matter of priority the individual situations of unoccupied or unnecessarily large premises and the associated extra costs identified by the Court (EUR 7,8 million), while recognising the challenges of building management in often complex environments;

32.  Emphasises that the EEAS and the Member States have a shared interest in factoring the use of the buildings and to further developing local co-operation in the area of management of buildings, with specific and continuous attention to be devoted to best value for money, security issues and the Union’s image;

33.  Welcomes the increase in co-location projects of Union delegations with Member States with the signature of six co-location memoranda of understanding in 2015, leading to a total of 86 co-location projects by the end of 2015; encourages the EEAS to further seek ways to extend this good practice; considers that this policy should include innovative approaches aiming at defining both a coordinated strategy of co-location with Member States eager to do so and appropriate cost-sharing arrangements related to buildings and logistics; observes that co-location arrangements also concern other entities contributing to the management of foreign policies such as the European Investment Bank, the ECHO services, common security and defence policy missions and Union special representatives;

34.  Regrets the insufficient recording and inaccuracies in the information system for managing delegations’ office buildings and residences; asks for a regular review of the completeness and reliability of data encoded by Union delegations to deepen the general planning of surface, locations and cost recovery;

35.  Urges the EEAS to reinforce its management control and monitoring tools of all the costs incurred in the building policy in order to ensure an accurate overview and follow-up of all the expenditure in this area; considers that emphasis should be put on monitoring the ceilings defined in the building policy to decrease the total annual rent of delegations’ offices and related recurrent costs, and to ensure the adequacy of the contributions paid by co-located entities, the coverage of the running costs involved in co-location situations and the correctness of costs with local market conditions;

36.  Believes that legal and technical expertise in real estate management should be swiftly developed while considering any cost-effective alternative options such as hiring external expertise (e.g. local brokers) to prospect the market or possibly negotiate with landlords;

37.  Asks the EEAS for an annual list of inspections carried out in the delegations;

38.  Calls on the EEAS to have checks carried out by the delegation inspectorate on the last five rental or purchase agreements for residences for Union ambassadors, including the residence in Tirana, Albania, and to report back to Parliament;

39.  Supports the implementation of a medium and long term strategy to identify all possible options in this area from investment priorities or possibilities of purchases to renting renewals or to the sharing of premises with Member States, taking into account staff projections and policy planning and development;

40.  Encourages the EEAS to further apply the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), and also the principle of green public procurement in its building policy, while understanding that the local conditions of the 139 delegations require a certain degree of flexibility;

41.  Is of the opinion that the security of the EEAS and of its delegations needs to be further strengthened and calls on the EEAS to give priority to it when choosing buildings and spaces for its delegations; considers that the security of buildings should be an integral part of its building policy and that the EEAS evacuation scheme and its evacuation decisions, if needed, should be coordinated with the Representations of the Member States concerned;

42.  Welcomes the fact that the EEAS envisages a project of common vision and joint action with the objective of achieving a stronger Europe which contributes to peace and security in the region and the whole world;

43.  Calls on the EEAS to improve its communication policy towards Union citizens.

2.2.2017

OPINION of the Committee on Foreign Affairs

for the Committee on Budgetary Control

on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2015, Section X - European External Action Service

(2016/2160(DEC))

Rapporteur: Zigmantas Balčytis

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on Foreign Affairs calls on the Committee on Budgetary Control, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1.  Notes with satisfaction that according to the European Court of Auditors (ECA) the overall level of error in Heading 5 (Administration), including the budget of the European External Action Service (EEAS), continues to be relatively low (0,6% in 2015);

2.  Notes that the ECA found certain weaknesses in recruitment procedures of local agents in delegations and in procurement procedures organised by delegations and invites the EEAS to improve the quality of its procedures; points out the challenges of operations within a decentralised network of 139 delegations, with limited human resources and in diverse environments, and stresses the necessity to reduce the administrative burden faced by individual delegations; welcomes the pilot project on the regionalisation of the administrative support to Union delegations in Europe and calls for the centralisation of administrative tasks at Headquarters as far as possible, as well as for adequate training opportunities and ad-hoc support of the delegations;

3.  Recalls the need to ensure full respect of the staffing formula on the ratio between EEAS staff drawn from Member States and from Union institutions as set out by the Council Decision on the organisation and functioning of the EEAS; welcomes the commitment of the Vice-President/High Representative made to the Parliament to address the existing overrepresentation of national diplomats in the positions of heads of delegations, and to present in the course of 2017 a review of the EEAS human resources policy, looking at issues such as gender balance and mobility of staff between institutions;

4.  Notes ECA Special Report 07/2016 on the management of buildings by the EEAS; while recognising the challenges of building management in often complex environments, calls on the EEAS to address the individual cases of unoccupied or unnecessarily large premises that have been identified by the ECA as a matter of priority and to seek more efficient use of co-location with other EU bodies or Member State embassies; recommends to the EEAS to enhance support to the EU delegations in identifying suitable solutions to meet their needs.

RESULT OF FINAL VOTE IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

31.1.2017

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

45

7

5

Members present for the final vote

Francisco Assis, Petras Auštrevičius, Amjad Bashir, Bas Belder, Goffredo Maria Bettini, Mario Borghezio, Victor Boştinaru, Elmar Brok, Klaus Buchner, Javier Couso Permuy, Andi Cristea, Arnaud Danjean, Georgios Epitideios, Anna Elżbieta Fotyga, Eugen Freund, Michael Gahler, Sandra Kalniete, Manolis Kefalogiannis, Tunne Kelam, Afzal Khan, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, Andrey Kovatchev, Eduard Kukan, Barbara Lochbihler, Sabine Lösing, Andrejs Mamikins, Ramona Nicole Mănescu, Alex Mayer, David McAllister, Tamás Meszerics, Francisco José Millán Mon, Ioan Mircea Paşcu, Tonino Picula, Cristian Dan Preda, Jozo Radoš, Sofia Sakorafa, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Alyn Smith, Jordi Solé, Jaromír Štětina, Dubravka Šuica, László Tőkés, Ivo Vajgl, Elena Valenciano, Hilde Vautmans

Substitutes present for the final vote

Angel Dzhambazki, Mike Hookem, Othmar Karas, Antonio López-Istúriz White, Norica Nicolai, Urmas Paet, Soraya Post, György Schöpflin, Igor Šoltes, Željana Zovko

Substitutes under Rule 200(2) present for the final vote

Raymond Finch, Jasenko Selimovic

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

Date adopted

22.3.2017

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

20

4

0

Members present for the final vote

Inés Ayala Sender, Dennis de Jong, Tamás Deutsch, Martina Dlabajová, Luke Ming Flanagan, Ingeborg Gräßle, Jean-François Jalkh, Bogusław Liberadzki, Notis Marias, Georgi Pirinski, José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, Petri Sarvamaa, Claudia Schmidt, Bart Staes, Hannu Takkula, Derek Vaughan

Substitutes present for the final vote

Benedek Jávor, Karin Kadenbach, Markus Pieper, Patricija Šulin

Substitutes under Rule 200(2) present for the final vote

Raymond Finch, Jens Geier, Arne Lietz, Piernicola Pedicini

FINAL VOTE BY ROLL CALL IN COMMITTEE RESPONSIBLE

20

+

ALDE

Martina Dlabajová, Hannu Takkula

GUE/NGL

Luke Ming Flanagan, Dennis de Jong

PPE

Tamás Deutsch, Ingeborg Gräßle,Markus Pieper, José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, Petri Sarvamaa, Claudia Schmidt, Patricija Šulin

S&D

Inés Ayala Sender, Jens Geier, Karin Kadenbach, Bogusław Liberadzki, Arne Lietz, Georgi Pirinski, Derek Vaughan

Verts/ALE

Benedek Jávor, Bart Staes

4

-

ECR

Notis Marias

S&D

Raymond Finch, Piernicola Pedicini

Verts/ALE

Jean-François Jalkh

0

0

 

 

Key to symbols:

+  :  in favour

-  :  against

0  :  abstention

  • [1]  OJ L 69, 13.3.2015.
  • [2]  OJ C 380, 14.10.2016, p. 1.
  • [3]  OJ C 375, 13.10.2016, p. 1.
  • [4]  OJ C 380, 14.102016, p. 147.
  • [5]  OJ L 298, 26.10.2012, p. 1.