Monday, 9 April 2012

EU Aid for a Small Economy

As noted in previous posts, I have been 'plotting' a trip to the Falkland Islands (FI) for some time now, and finally it happened.

Together with a colleague, we have an EU contract to provide technical assistance to the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) to help them secure over 4 million euros of EDF 10 funding. Until this contract came along, I hadn't really understood that Brussels provided aid to the overseas territories of the member states, but apparently it does. In the case of FI, the amount of funding for the current period was decided some time ago, but as one has learned to expect of the EU, in order for the money actually to be disbursed, FIG has to submit a huge pile of quite complicated documentation to confirm that it meets the EU's criteria. Our task, then, is to study the economy of FI in order to help FIG prepare all the reports needed to get the money, intended as budget support for spending on economic diversification and rural development.

This trip south nearly didn't happen, as there were some delays over getting our contract properly signed off by the EU. However, approval came through just in time for us to confirm the flights out to Stanley. The last few days before we departed on March 25th were a bit crazy, though. In my case, I had a day in Brussels for briefing at the Commission, then a day in London for some Foreign Office briefing and a meeting with the FIG London Office. My colleague was working on another EU-funded project based in Barbados (yes, it's tough being a consultant..........), so he flew home just two days before we travelled to the Falklands. Amazingly we managed to get to Brize Norton in time to catch the flight, and the journey south, though long, was totally uneventful.

Arriving at the Mount Pleasant base in the Falklands is not one of life's great experiences, as it sits in the middle of a broad expanse of fairly dull heath land, and the whole area looks extremely monotonous. An hour later, arriving in Stanley, everything is completely different. A small town of only 2000 inhabitants, Stanley is right by the sea and is a very colourful place, with lots of geese and sea birds, as the above picture of Victory Green shows.

Once we settled in, we got down to work and quickly realised that aside from a lot of volatility in income from issuing fishing licences, the economy was in rather good shape, with full employment, no debt, and a general policy by FIG of aiming for budget balance. This very conservative approach to fiscal policy means they can easily cope with a couple of bad years, as the government holds reserves that are more than twice total public spending. Given this, it shouldn't prove too hard to convince the EU that the economy is being well managed. And we do still have the report-writing to do.

Needless to say, you can't go all that way without making a bit of time to visit the penguins. At the weekend in the middle of our visit we flew over to Carcass Island in the west and stayed at a lodge there. We were lucky with the weather and saw a wonderful variety of sea birds, including two types of penguin. The picture above shows yours truly in front of a colony of gentoo penguins.

The timing of our visit overlapped with the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina, and as a result the place was full of journalists. These included several from Argentina itself, some quite liberal and open minded, some very hostile to the UK and interested only in broadcasting propaganda. However, we met some of the Argentine journalists in the Victory Inn, and at the personal level they were interesting to talk to. FIG basically wants good relations with Argentina, involving normal trade, fishing agreements, unrestricted travel, and all the usual things. Hopefully the present hostility from Argentina will not last too long.

Now, back to a bit more report writing........

No comments:

Post a Comment