I presume the Deputy is referring to the disbursement of funds in the EU aid programme with particular reference to budget implementation and to the European Development Fund under the Cotonou Agreement.
The European Commission's annual report and the Court of Auditors' report on financial activities will be published in the second half of 2004. In December 2003, the Commission reported the provisional results of the 2003 EC budget implementation. The Commission stated that since the beginning of 2003, € 3.919 billion has been committed, an increase of €42 million when compared to 2002, and € 3.271 billion paid, compared to €3.327 billion in 2002. Furthermore, the backlog of unspent commitments has not increased from €11.5 billion for the third consecutive year. This means that, at current rate of spending, the number of years required to clear this backlog would be 3.5, which compares with 4.6 years at the end of 1998.
For the European Development Fund, EDF, separately financed by member states outside of the EC budget, provisional figures for payments amount to €2.4 billion, a record level and a 24% increase over 2002 figures. Commitments also reached a new level at € 3.7 billion or 76% above the 2002 performance. The backlog of unspent commitments has increased from €8.4 billion at the end of 2002 to an estimated amount of €9.4 billion at the end of 2003. However, expressed in terms of the number of years to clear the backlog, the figure is about four years compared to 5.5 years at the end of 2000.
The reductions in the backlog and the increased annual expenditure suggest that the reforms of external assistance undertaken in 2000 are beginning to have a positive effect. Ireland has been at the forefront of those member states promoting this reform and we will continue to do this throughout the Presidency and beyond. We need to further enhance the efficiency of expenditure, but also its effectiveness. Development Ministers will have a discussion about the reform process at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council scheduled for 27 April.