EFTA’s financing mechanism slammed by EU auditors

Publish date: February 11, 2004

Written by: Hanne Bakke

The European Unions Court of Auditors has revealed that environmental renewal projects during the first 5-year period of the EEA agreement—from 1994 to 1999 have caused environmental damage in Greece and Spain.

The European Unions Court of Auditors focused attention on discrepancies between money disbursed and received by the EEA.

The EU-auditors leveled their criticism at how money was earmarked for various environmental renewal projects during the first 5-year period of the EEA agreement—from 1994 to 1999. This is the same period during which Norway was annually donating NOK200m to EU’s poorest countries—Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece—for environmental renewal projects.

The project of reconstructing the Dochiarou Monastery on the Athos Peninsula in Northeastern Greece stands out as a characteristic example: Building material and waste were dropped into the ocean and scattered into the environment. The expansion of Pireus harbour in the Port of Athens also caused immense damage to the environment when boulders were removed from the island of Salamis. So far, nothing has been done to correct the situation.

Demands of improvement

The gross misuse of funding was made public in the EU’s Court of Auditors’ 2002 annual report, published October 8th last year, and presented to the European Parliament in December.

Earlier this month, Bellona was in the European Parliament obtain information on the matter, and it was clear that it is being taken seriously by Members of European Parliamentarians, or MEPs. Now the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, or EIB, are probing the environmental damage and evaluating how to ensure that the environment is respected during projects funded by the 3-member European Free Trade Association, or EFTA. Special attention will be focused on the environmental damage caused by the expansion of Pireus Harbour, the report says.

The EC is issuing a proposal to EFTA countries to tighten financial control and certification before exceptional amounts of money are disbursed. According to the Commission, there are no sufficient guidelines governing these disbursals. The Court of Auditors has, for instance, revealed a number of occasions where the disbursement of funding does not tally with figures from the beneficiary countries.

‘Truly disturbing’

“This is really disturbing information regarding the fact that Norway is about to divide about NOK10 bilion toEastern Europe during the next five years,” Bellona President Frederic Hauge said. He added that “if there’s been a lack of control in the use of Norway’s annual NOK200m, it is frightening to think what may happen when Norway allocates NOK10 billion over the next five years.

Bellona calls on Norwegian authorities to collaborate with organizations that defend the environment in recipient countries so as to ensure that scandals of this nature are not repeated in the future.

Bellona has on several occasions tried to obtain strategy notes from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign affairs’ on how Norway’s money is to be spent, but has been rebuffed every time. “We simply cannot get the information we need in order to make constructive input to strengthen the environment,” he said. “Quite a paradox, as the environment is top priority in the new EEA-agreement.

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