Answers of Mr. Richard Weber

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Following Georges Abi Saleh, president of the Euromed civil platform, our guest for the month of December was Richard Heber Weber, EuropeAid’s deputy director general since 2007. This Cooperation Office is responsible of administering funds to development and cooperation projects and programmes in 150 countries, with an ongoing portfolio of more than 22 billion Euros.

Specialist of management, of project and financial administration, economist graduated from a business school, Richard Weber began his career in international finance before joining in the year 1980 the European Commission. He was the director of the MEDA II programme and managed operations for Mediterranean countries from the year 2000 to the year 2006.

Answers of Mr. Richard Weber


1. Mr. Weber, three years ago, came to visit the Anna Lindh Foundation in Alexandria. I would like to know if he thinks that things have changed in the Foundation. Does the UE have a different plan for the Anna Lindh Foundation in the future?

During the past few years, the Anna Lindh Foundation renewed its ruling bodies and re-adjusted its priorities. Like any institution does after launch and takeoff period, Anna Lindh foundation entered a phase of consolidation and reached cruising speed. The Foundation will be able during the coming years to develop its strategy, actions and programs, commensurate with challenges facing its activity.


2. What is the position of the European Union regarding the Western Moroccan Sahara? Do you have projects in this region? Are they executed through the Moroccan authorities?

The European Union fully supports the efforts of the UN Secretary General which is the right Instance to deal with this issue. Like in any situation of this type, everywhere in the world, the EU evidently supports through humanitarian assistance the concerned populations in need in the refugee camps.

3. What is the best governance system? Is there any country that is using it properly?


Good governance is a complex and multidimensional question that concerns central, regional and local authorities, as well as administration and civil society in related countries. Governance should obviously be adapted to population needs and economic conditions prevailing in one country or another. There is no exemplification that would serve as a reference for all types of cases, even in well-developed countries with strong economic growth and solid democratic system. This is the reason why it is important to approach this question modestly and in a pragmatic way. Giving moral lessons seems inappropriate.

Guiding principles of EU external relationships include respect for human rights and promotion of democracy. We defend these principles all over the world, and we carry out development activities because we believe in such principles. But we do not intend to impose our values on the rest of the world.


4. In your opinion, and in view of your experience at the European Commission, did you notice a lack of media coverage about the Euromed partnership?


European issues, whether they are related to the Euromed partnership or to any other matter, often receive insufficient media coverage. This is due to 2 major reasons:

- European matters are complex and cannot be presented to the public with elementary and simple terms.
- The European action is often carried out at the state level with partner countries (ministries, national budget). In spite of its efficiency, EU action is not accompanied with immediate and direct visibility among its beneficiaries. For example, support provided by EU to development projects in Southern Mediterranean countries in the social, medical, and educational fields is not discernible by all citizens of each country benefiting from these EU actions.

5. 
Where do you think lay the main problems in the Arab Mediterranean countries: in the economy, the politics or the culture?

Problems in Southern Mediterranean countries are multiple, like any other part of the world. But we can say that problems in the Mediterranean region are due to insufficient level of prosperity, notably compared with the European Union, as well as other factors:

- Well-known historical conditions.
- Insufficient level of education and high level of analphabetism in some Southern Mediterranean countries, particularly among rural populations and women.
- Rapid demographic expansion absorbing in some countries economic growth and progress results.
- Insufficiency in services, transport and environment infrastructures, as well as a compartmentalization of markets at the national level, which, taken separately, cannot attract foreign investments.
- National legislations are often in a precarious state and obsolete, notably in the economic field.

6. How do you evaluate projects carried out to the benefit of Palestinians? Did you face resistance from the Israeli occupation?


During the past few years, the EU (Commission and member states) granted about one billion Euros per year to support the Palestinian authority. Unfortunately, considering restrictions imposed by Israelis authorities on the freedom of circulation, our actions were thus mainly addressed to support, on a humanitarian level, most vulnerable parts of the Palestinian population, and to maintain viability of public services (health, education, electricity, water, etc.). Even though our action has proven to be useful to the Palestinian Authority and to a very large part of the Palestinian population, we were not able, as we were hoping, to use major part of our funding to develop productive investment projects and infrastructure necessary to improve and strengthen the Palestinian economy, as well as to generate jobs and stable income.


7. What are the projects that aim to support the inhabitants of Gaza? We notice that most projects are non-productive. Is this a policy to keep that population dependent on Europe?

Due to the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, it is constantly impossible to have access to the Gaza Strip and to import raw material for infrastructure building. Consequently, a major part of our projects carried out to the benefit of local populations is not productive. Most of the time, EU support takes the form of expenses that aim at helping vulnerable inhabitants of Gaza, in coordination with UNRWA. On another hand, EU financial contribution is used to pay the salaries of Palestinian Authority employees in charge of essential services such as health and education.

In parallel, the EU ensures payment of fuel oil used by the power station that produces part of the electricity supply to the Gaza Strip. Our objective is certainly not to maintain Gaza population dependent on the European Union, but to allay the suffering and pain of the Palestinian population – as we do in any part of the world where human beings live in precarious conditions. It is an honor for the EU to believe in and to defend solidarity and human rights values.

We are endeavoring to do such work in Gaza and the West Bank.



8. On which basis do you choose the country and the nature of projects intended to be implemented in the country? Do you face any obstacles from the governments of countries where you wish to implement developmental projects?

EU strategy is based on principles of partnership, conviction and cooperation. It is out of the question for us to impose any value or principle on our partners in the world. They are sovereign countries and we are firmly convinced that the free adherence of our partners to shared objectives can lead to successful cooperation. It happens that national authorities refuse to incorporate specific EU cooperation scheme or projects. In that case, we withdraw our proposals and suggest other project ideas, or we simply choose not to conceive other cooperation actions with those countries.

9. What do you think of these constraining measures that the EU imposes on some beneficiary countries, which hence are obliged to maneuver to ensure funding for their projects?

EU’s guiding principle is not to impose constraining measures on its partner countries. Our cooperation scheme is based on local appropriation of our projects and on a partnership approach. Indeed, when we sign a financial convention with partner country authorities, both contracting parties – EU and beneficiary state - are called to respect obligations that were freely approved, as well as the financial engagements they’ve subscribed. And this is very normal. We are dealing with budgets reaching millions and hundreds of millions of Euros and it is natural that efforts made by European citizens to support our partner countries come with requirements concerning objectives and results to achieve. In case objectives and expected results are not obtained, funds are not made available. In fact, the EU should debrief its control bodies and its representatives about the good use of the significant amounts of money granted to our partner countries. It is to be noted that the EU (Commission and member states) ensures 60% of total international aid in the world (more than 50 billion Euros per year). It is clear that such effort requires justification to make things clear for the 500 million of European citizens who are called each year to draw financial contribution from their own resources.