In May 2000 the Commission announced a major reform of the management of its external aid programme, the main objectives being to make radical improvements in the speed and quality of EC external aid, while ensuring robust financial procedures. A key component of the reform is the extensive devolution of aid management tasks and responsibilities to the Commission Delegations. As a result of devolution, Delegations are now responsible for project preparation, contracting, and financial and technical implementation, and they have received substantial extra human and technical resources. Devolution also has important consequences for the central services of the EuropeAid Cooperation Office (or EuropeAid) in Brussels, as their role is moving away from direct management of projects towards monitoring and supporting Delegations.
The Court has visited the central services in Brussels as well as ten Delegations, to examine whether the Commission has managed the devolution process successfully and whether devolved management in the Delegations is starting to achieve the intended results.
The devolution of aid management responsibilities to 78 Delegations constituted a major reorganisation of the Commission's services in the area of external aid and its implementation is a considerable achievement, with almost all Delegations operating under devolved management by end 2004.
Regarding the Commission's management of the devolution process, the Court has found that in general Delegations have been reasonably well prepared to operate under devolved management, but that the preparation of the headquarters' (HQ) services has been less well planned, lacking both analysis and consultation.
Regarding the results of devolution, it is still too early, after less than two years of devolved management, to see the envisaged improvements in the speed and quality of EC external aid. Also, the lack of a complete set of performance indicators at an early stage in the devolution process makes it difficult to measure progress against the main objectives.
For the time being, problems in recruiting staff in Delegations with appropriate expertise and using this expertise in an optimal way, difficulties experienced by HQ in providing support to Delegations, as yet inadequate financial information systems and complicated procedures are limiting the expected results of devolution in terms of increased speed and improved quality of project management.
However, in the majority of Delegations visited there are signs that devolved management is on the right path to achieving the intended results. The speed and quality of project management are benefiting from the increased capacity in the operational units of the Delegations and from having the finance and contracts staff available on the ground. This leads to a better problem-solving capacity within the Delegation, and to increased contacts with beneficiaries and other relevant parties, and to a better understanding of local conditions, risks and opportunities. Robust financial management procedures are generally ensured under devolution but are not yet sufficiently developed in respect of the financial monitoring of implementing organisations.
On the basis of its observations the Court recommends that:
- the Commission introduces appropriate indicators, relating to both speed and quality of aid, which measure progress from year to year and against standards to be set;
- the Commission ensures that its recruitment procedures, salaries and other conditions of employment can attract staff with the appropriate expertise to fulfil the increased staffing needs of its Delegations;
- thematic expertise present within HQ services is organised in order to provide good quality support to Delegations in an efficient way;
- HQ's monitoring and support role is further developed, notably by improving the financial information systems and addressing outstanding training needs;
- in order to optimise the results of devolution, the Commission continues to pay particular attention to the simplification, harmonisation and clarification of financial and contractual procedures.
Special Report No 10/2004 : http://www.eca.eu.int/audit_reports/special_reports/docs/2004/rs10_04en.pdf
 The sole purpose of this Information Note is to provide a summary. The Special Report adopted by the Court of Auditors is available on the Court's website (http://www.eca.eu.int) and will shortly be published in the C series of the Official Journal of the European Union.