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EU Auditors’ report on Task Force in Greece: They Came, Saw & Delivered Few Results

“More attention to results need to improve the delivery of technical assistance to Greece.” That’s the title the EU auditors, “the guardians of the EU finances” put on their report about the technical assistance the Task Force delivered to Greece since 2011.

“Progress in structural spending was good but technical assistance was often only partially effective in public administration and taxation reform,”

The reports stresses that the Task Force for Greece had just mixed results in terms of influence on the sustainable reforms process.

Among the shortcomings listed by the auditors are that

The TFGR had a functional operational structure but no strategic orientation and a dedicated budget and it produced not a single strategic document.

The team around German Horst Reichenbach has apparently totally failed.

Press Release by EUROPEAN COURT OF AUDITORS – Guardians of the EU finances

“Technical assistance to help countries in crisis such as Greece should focus on sustainable reforms and on helping business continuity by strengthening national administrations, according to the European Court of Auditors. In a new report on the Task Force for Greece set up in 2011 by the European Commission, the auditors recommend that, in future, such bodies should be based on a strategy with well-defined objectives, while the assistance should be prioritised and focused.

The Task Force focused on reforming public administration in Greece, improving the tax system and bringing about a return to growth by fostering its business environment. The auditors examined whether it had fulfilled its mandate and whether the assistance had made an effective contribution to reform. They obtained evidence from the Commission, service providers, Greek government departments and other stakeholders.

Although the Task Force proved itself as a mechanism for delivering complex technical assistance, there were weaknesses in the design of some projects and only mixed results in terms of influence on the progress of reform,” said Mr Baudilio Tomé Muguruza, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report.

Technical assistance was delivered to the Greek authorities in accordance with the mandate, but it did not always advance the reforms sufficiently, say the auditors, while noting that their assessment has to be seen in the context of the volatile political situation in Greece. The need for urgency meant that the Task Force was set up very rapidly, without a full analysis of other options or a dedicated budget. It had no single comprehensive strategic document for delivering assistance or for deciding priorities.

The delivery of assistance was relevant and broadly in line with the programme requirements, and the Task Force developed a flexible and diversified system for delivery. However, there were weaknesses at project level: procedures to select service providers were not always based on a thorough analysis of the available alternatives, and some long-term assistance contracts did not clearly state what they were expected to deliver.

The system for monitoring progress was effective, but the breadth of checks on external providers was highly variable, say the auditors. Moreover, it did not systematically monitor how the Greek authorities followed up recommendations or the broader impacts of the assistance.

The impact on the progress of reform was mixed, since implementation was beyond the Task Force’s control and subject to external factors. Progress on structural spending was good, but only partially effective in public administration and taxation reform.” (EU Auditors website)

I wouldn’t know whether the TFGR failure had to do with the fact that different tasks were assigned to different groups form different countries and that the TFGR leadership, like German EU technocrat Horst Reichenbach, was not able to coordinate the whole issue.

Apparently the situation did not get better when Reichenbach was replaced by a Dutch colleague of his.

I’m curious how much money the whole Task Force project costed, but have to time to go through the whole 80-page long report.

PS I know quite a lot about how the reforms in the health sector took place, what the TFGR proposed and how the Samaras-government implemented them, while Task Force had no idea about the end results. Shhhh, Brussels is sleeping….

 

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8 comments

  1. The Task Force wasted its time, was unprofessional and did a poor job – but! – it provided enormous salaries for many years to all its members, which was surely the point.
    Paid for by the greek taxpayer of course.

    Is the EU Court of Auditors the body that has refused to approve the EU budgets for 17 years?

  2. This is a most serious matter! Personally, I had considered the TFGR as arguably the most important ‘help’ which the EU had offered to Greece. Essentially, the TFGR was designed to act as a turntable for making available to Greece the best resources from other EU countries for all areas of public administration.

    One has to look at the small print. The mission for the TFGR was not ‘to deliver this and that for Greece’. The TFGR had no authority to do anything. Had it been given such authority, Greece would have considered it as an infringement of its sovereignty. That’s why the mission was clearly defined that “The Task Force is a resource at the disposal of the Greek authorities as they seek to build a modern and prosperous Greece: a Greece characterised by economic opportunity and social equity, and served by an efficient administration with a strong public service ethos.” The emphasis is on “a resource at the disposal of…” In other words: if Greece does not utilize the TFGR, not much will happen.

    The real world equivalent is a large corporation in trouble and a management consulting firm which is expected to rescue the company. The order for consulting services must come from the company’s management if the consulting is supposed to work. If the CEO alone takes such a decision (without the support of his management team), the consultants will run into passive resistance at each step and they won’t accomplish anything.

    In Greece, it wasn’t even the CEO alone who requested the TFGR. It was the EU which ‘volunteered’ it on the assumption that Greece couldn’t handle alone within a few years what other countries had needed decades and centuries for – the building up of an efficient public administration. As a result, the TFGR became something which Greece politely tolerated (and some even considered it as an occupation force). I have never heard a single Greek politician from the PM downwards who enthusiastically promoted the TFGR as the instrument which could catapult Greece’s public administration into modernity (if it so desired).

    Back in 2012/13, I was periodically in contact with the TFGR. Whenever I expressed impatience that they should be doing a lot more things than they were doing, I noticed this helplessness. Sort of like “We can only do it if we have a mandate from the Greek government”.

    To now blame the TFGR for lack of success misses the point by far. You can give a government a Lagarde List, a Task Force or whatever. If the government does not want to ‘own’ any given task or project, everything is for naught. Greece now has a new cooperation with France regarding public administration reform. That was entered into by Alexis Tsipras personally. We’ll see if that works better. I link below an proposal which I had once made as to how the TFGR could work for the benefit of Greece.

    http://klauskastner.blogspot.co.at/2012/12/make-2013-year-of-task-force-for-greece.html

    • I have first hand information about what TFGR did and what not and how it cooperated wiht the government. My stunning surprise was that they indeed had no idea how the Greeks implemented their proposals for which they spent thousands of euros for research, reports etc. So, if they did not do Follow Up… all they did was enjoying the Athens sun with a glass of ouzo + meze. Mission failed.

      • Well, not quite. When it became apparent that the TFGR wasn’t getting anywhere with reform assistance, they discovered a project where the TFGR could be useful and would be busy, and that was to increase the utilization rate of EU subsidies. There the TFGR was quite successful because they could increase the utilization rate from a dismal figure to close to 90%, I believe. But still, for that kind of thing one doesn’t need a TFGR.

        Last year, I had to accompany my wife to various public offices. Her father had died 17 year ago and it was discovered that my wife had inherited a minute parcel of land from him. She now had to officially accept the inheritance and assume ownership. It was simply unbelievable how much trouble that minute parcel of land caused. The various offices, the seemingly endless paperwork, etc. etc. defied description. It seems to me that those are the kind of issues where the TFGR could have introduced reforms.

        • a minute parcel? ha! that’s difficult. to apply for something (anything in fact) one needs to spend 3 full days to achieve the goal. no wonder Greeks are exhausted and literally fed up with bureaucracy. BTW I’m talking about some of the health reforms.

        • Giaourti Giaourtaki

          That must be the very reason why year on year tens of thousands die in Greek civil war, the idiotic modernites are just too stupid to figure who owns the trees although therefore they not even need language skills but they are not only too lazy to learn the language of the country they occupy they are also too lazy to count the trees.

  3. As I have stated repeatedly over recent years, the Troika had no intention of implementing much-needed economic and structural reforms in Greece. Their so-called “reforms” were always trite neoliberal platitudes — such as freeing up sectors with legitimate controls, e.g. taxis and pharmacies. The Task Force was always a political con-trick, since the primary purpose of the Memoranda was to extract moneys from the Greek people — not even from the rich, but from the poorer sectors of the economy. Those moneys are needed, as the Germans and French chose to quietly prop up their own private banks, and assume the Greek state debts for the Troika.
    ~
    Fools, and there are plenty (including one commenting here), who chose to believe in the propaganda are still aplenty. So let me say it again: the Troika is not interested in helping Greece. All they care about is collecting their money. Even that, they are not doing successfully, since running an economy into the ground is not a good way to extort money from it.