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C 235 E/222

Official Journal of the European Communities

EN
EN

21.8.2001

Furthermore, certain difficulties with human resources in the relevant departments of the Commission (limited number of staff in comparison with the rapid increase in the number of applications) have meant that it has taken longer to process applications in recent years, which could go some way to explaining why applicants have received a late reply.

In order to rectify this situation and improve the management of this initiative at all levels selection, spreading of the grants throughout the year, rapid processing of applications the Commission has decided, in consultation with the partner organisations in the area of town-twinning (the representatives of 29 national sections of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions of Europe (CEMR) and the United Towns Organisation), to introduce in 2001 the call for proposals procedure, which is widely used in managing the Commission’s grants.

It is not possible to grant retrospective funding for the initiative referred to by the Honourable Member, because the budget for 2000 has been used up and the budgetary resources for 2001 are earmarked for new projects and will be granted under the new procedure of a call for proposals.

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Notice on town-twinning grants (OJ C 238, 22.8.2000).

(2001/C 235 E/260)

WRITTEN QUESTION P-0537/01

by John Hume (PSE) to the Commission

(16 February 2001)

Subject: Agriculture in Northern Ireland

Given that agriculture is the largest industry in Northern Ireland, and given the impact of the current serious crisis, will the Commission carry out a study into the agricultural situation in Northern Ireland with a view to finding ways of resolving the crisis?

Answer given by Mr Fischler on behalf of the Commission

(15 March 2001)

The Commission is indeed aware of the difficulties in the Northern Ireland agricultural sector and its importance in the regional economy. As regards a study of the sector, the Commission attaches great importance to integrated regional development with well founded initiatives supported by studies and evaluation involving the participation of public authorities and economic and social partners.

The Commission approved the rural development plan for Northern Ireland on the 4 December 2000. This plan is funded out of the Guarantee Section of the European Agriculture Guarantee and Guidance Fund (EAGGF) and covers the so-called ‘accompanying’ measures (aid for less favoured areas, agri- environment and afforestation of agricultural land). This plan includes an ‘ex-ante’ assessment of these measures and a description of the current situation and the strengths and weaknesses of the agricultural sector in Northern Ireland. The appropriateness of these measures should again be examined at the mid- term and ex-post evaluations for this plan.

On the 20 December 2000 the Commission also approved the Community support framework (2000- 2006) for Northern Ireland on the basis of a structural development plan (SDP). The rural development measures within this framework will be co-funded out of the Guidance Section of the EAGGF. This SDP was accompanied by an ex-ante evaluation (prepared jointly by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency and a private sector consulting organisation) also covering briefly the strengths and weaknesses of Agriculture and the Rural Economy.

The Commission is also aware of several agriculture-specific studies carried out in the recent past. Given the number of recent relevant studies, the importance of including local actors and the finance available for such studies from the Structural Funds, the Commission does not think it appropriate for itself to undertake such a study at this time.