Report on Inquiry into Barroso Task Force

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 02 July 2014

Reference: NIA 179/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60539-8

Mandate Number: 2011/15

barroso-report.pdf (6.48 mb)

Executive Summary

1. Given that the term of the current President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso is coming to an end in 2014, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister agreed to undertake an inquiry to examine the work of the Northern Ireland Taskforce. The Taskforce was established by President Barroso in 2007 to support Northern Ireland in its efforts to improve its economic competitiveness and to create sustainable employment.

2. The Northern Ireland Taskforce, or Barroso Taskforce as it came to be known, consists of representatives of the European Commission working with officials from the Northern Ireland Executive to strengthen Northern Ireland’s engagement in European affairs. The work of the Taskforce is informed and guided by its report produced in 2008 which examined Northern Ireland’s performance in EU affairs, compared where appropriate with other regions of the European Union (EU). That report also included a number of suggestions and recommendations as to how this performance could be improved. In response, the Northern Ireland Executive produced an Action Plan outlining its European priorities in 2009 and established an inter-departmental Taskforce Working Group (Barroso Taskforce Working Group) to implement the Commission’s suggestions and recommendations.

3. The Committee agreed the terms of reference of the inquiry which were to:

Consider the work and structures of the Taskforce including the Barroso Taskforce Working Group (BTWG) since its inception in 2007

Identify the outcomes from the Taskforce and assess against the objectives

Identify and consider lessons learned from the functioning of the Taskforce in order to inform recommendations for future engagement in EU affairs post Barroso

4. In the evidence the Committee received it is clear that the Taskforce in Brussels and the Taskforce Working Group in Northern Ireland have stimulated a marked increase in engagement in European affairs by Executive departments. The European Commission provided in its evidence a number of examples across a range of policy areas where the Taskforce has directly or indirectly created positive outcomes for Northern Ireland.

5. Regarding the initiative in Northern Ireland, it is clear that the Taskforce Working Group in particular has proved to be a catalyst for increased focus from all Executive departments on EU matters, particularly with regard to the Programme for Government 2011-15 target to increase Northern Ireland’s drawdown of competitive funds by 20% over the period. To date, performance has exceeded this target and the Committee welcomes this progress. The Committee also commends the efforts of the Taskforce and Taskforce Working Group in raising the profile of Northern Ireland, which is one of over 250 regions represented in Brussels, to facilitate access to decision makers in the Commission.

6. The Committee is strongly of the view that it is vital that at this juncture the expertise, experience and networks established through the Taskforce and Taskforce Working Group are not lost as a result of changes at the European Commission. While the Committee welcomes any review which seeks improvement, the Committee recommends that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister continues to sustain an inter-departmental forum to support such a cohesive and coherent approach to European engagement across the Executive.

7. In gathering the evidence for the inquiry, it became clear that while there have been a number of successful outcomes for the Taskforce and the Taskforce Working Group, there are also a number of issues which the Committee recommends are addressed as soon as possible. These issues were raised by a number of respondents to the inquiry and a number of common themes emerged - targets and outcomes; communication; and profile and focus.

8. The Committee recommends the establishment of clear targets with clear outcomes. While accepting that much of the work of the Taskforce and Taskforce Working Group is qualitative, the Committee considers that measurement and evaluation of progress and success is vital to ensure that performance can be further improved. To this end, the current benchmarking exercise of performance in drawdown of competitive funds should be completed as a matter of urgency. The capturing of data is also vital to evaluation of performance and indeed would be a useful tool to highlight successes of the current mechanisms for engaging in EU affairs.

9. With regard to clarity of roles and communication, the Committee recommends that these issues in particular should be addressed as a matter of urgency. The Committee was concerned to learn of confusion and lack of clarity amongst Executive departments as to the roles and responsibilities accorded to the various structures. This lack of clarity can clearly have a detrimental effect on success in effective engagement on EU policy or funding matters. It is vital that all stakeholders are clear on their respective roles and responsibilities.

10. Furthermore, the issues raised in relation to communication with stakeholders, including statutory committees of this Assembly must be addressed. Assembly committees, in exercising their statutory functions, should be confident of receiving timely and accurate information on key departmental activity. The Committee hopes that the Taskforce Working Group will take urgent action to address this matter.

11. The Committee considers the profile of Northern Ireland can be raised through active participation in EU policy development and that opportunities to build capacity and to contribute to cross regional or cross national working should be actively explored and encouraged. 

Download the full report here.

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