Official Journal of the European Union

C 157/147

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1260/1999 laying down general provisions on the Structural Funds concerning the extension of the duration of the PEACE programme and the granting of new commitment appropriations’

(COM(2004) 631 final)

(2005/C 157/26)

On 9 December 2004 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

In view of the urgency of the work, the European Economic and Social Committee decided at its 413th plenary session of 15 and 16 December 2004 to appoint Mr Simpson as rapporteur-general and unanimously adopted the following opinion.

1.   Introduction


The European Union has assisted peace and reconciliation activities in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland since 1995 through two distinctive peace programmes — the Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (‘PEACE I’) 1995/99 and the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (‘PEACE II’) 2000/04.


These programmes have provided around €100 million per annum to the eligible region which includes all of Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland. Both programmes share a common remit — to reinforce progress towards a peaceful and stable society and to promote reconciliation; both assist economic regeneration and social inclusion activities; and both are delivered through locally based implementing bodies.


The current value of the PEACE II Programme for five years is €531 million, or €106 million per annum. The annual value of the Northern Ireland element is approximately €85 million and for the Border Region of Ireland approximately €22 million. Both Member States provide 25 % matched funding and ensure that the additional requirements of the Programme are met.

2.   Purpose of the Proposal for a Council Regulation


A two-year extension of the PEACE II Programme is recommended because the level of political progress in Northern Ireland hoped for in 1998 has not been fully achieved and the political institutions have still not become stable. Peace-building and reconciliation remain critically important.


An ex-post evaluation of PEACE I and a mid-term evaluation of PEACE II were carried out as a single exercise in 2003. The PEACE I ex-post evaluation concluded that the programme had successfully promoted inclusivity and reconciliation, while delivering clear and measurable benefits in terms of job creation, training and business development. The mid-term evaluation of PEACE II commended the programme's increased focus on peace and reconciliation criteria when projects were being selected and noted the high proportion of projects with cross-community dimensions. Both programmes have had significant impacts in terms of job creation and business development.


The mid-term evaluation identified a clear need for further peace-building activities and recommended an increased focus on activities that directly promote reconciliation. The extension to 2006, proposed by the Commission, would give effect to the recommendations of the mid-term evaluation by supporting those existing Programme measures most in line with the current need for enhancing reconciliation.


On 18 May 2004, the United Kingdom Prime Minister and the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland wrote to the President of the Commission noting the achievements of the two EU-funded PEACE programmes and the contributions they have made to the Northern Ireland peace process. They requested an extension of the PEACE II Programme until December 2006.


On 16 June 2004 the President of the Commission responded that the Commission was keen to maintain these efforts. On 17/18 June 2004, at the request of the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Ireland, the European Council took note of the current difficulties in the peace process in Northern Ireland and confirmed its support for the efforts of the two Governments in seeking to re-establish the devolved political institutions. In order to support these efforts, the European Council called on the Commission to examine the possibility of aligning interventions under the PEACE II Programme with the programmes of the Structural Funds, which come to an end in 2006.


Effectively, this would extend the PEACE II programme by two further years.

3.   Proposal for a Council Regulation


Document COM(2004) 631 (final) is the Commission response to the Council's request. It proposes a two-year extension to the PEACE II Programme to the value of €60 million per annum, of which €41 million is intended for expenditure in Northern Ireland, and €19 million in the Border Region of Ireland. This is in line with the request made by the two Member States in September 2004, following public consultation.


To give effect to the extension of PEACE II and allocate to it the necessary additional finance, the Proposal for a Council Regulation would amend Regulation (EC) No. 1260/1999 which sets out general provisions on the Structural Funds, including the duration of the PEACE II Programme and total annual Structural Funds commitment appropriations until 2006.


The proposed Council Regulation, to enable this extension to be financed within the budget of the Structural Funds, amends the provision for the total resources available for commitment under the Structural Funds from €195 bn.to €195.1 bn. A related amendment increases the ceiling of the Structural Funds available for Objective 1 (including transitional support) from €135.9 bn.to €136 bn. (1)


The proposed Council Regulation amends the duration for the PEACE II Programme from 2000-2004 to the amended dates, 2000-2006.

4.   Conclusion


The Economic and Social Committee welcomes the contribution that the European Union is making to the enhancement of peace, stability and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.


The Committee has noted with interest the progress that has been made since 1995 when PEACE I was approved. The Committee has also noted and welcomes the recommendations made to the Commission by the organisation responsible for the delivery and supervision of PEACE II, the Special EU Programmes Body, which should simplify the operations of the Programme and increase the focus on reconciliation activities.


The Committee also acknowledges that peace-building through the involvement of people in the development of their own communities is a continuous process. The Committee therefore welcomes the positive contribution that the Local Strategy Partnerships (LSPs), set up in Northern Ireland as a result of Peace II, have made in promoting social partnership and civic society. The Committee is pleased with the success of the LSPs in establishing partnership between on the one hand local government and other public bodies and on the other hand the social partners. By this means LSPs, along with intermediary funding bodies, have promoted reconciliation across the divisions in NI society. The Committee is grateful for the way in which the institutions of the European Union have facilitated the development of these partnerships, which may serve as a model for civic society in other parts of the EU and other divided societies in the EU.


In line with the recommendation in the mid-term evaluation of Peace II for an increased focus on activities that promote directly reconciliation, the Committee hope that the extension of Peace II will be used for projects, which are related more to the specific aims of peace and reconciliation and which are less dependent on purely economic criteria which have little impact on sections of the community most affected by civil disturbances. It would also be the Committee's aspiration that the extension of Peace II would be used for projects which relate to the racism and other problems of migrant workers who seek to avail of the EU policies on freedom of movement.


The Committee, therefore, supports the adoption of the proposed Regulation.

Brussels, 16 December 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND

(1)  Technical correction: the draft regulation mistakenly quotes the current provision for Objective 1 as €135.6 bn. The original Regulation 1260/1999, Article 7, refers to €135.9 bn.