Ministers' Deputies / Rapporteur Groups
Rapporteur Group on Programme, Budget and Administration
GR-PBA(2008)CB6 13 November 20081
Meeting of 6 November 2008
The Rapporteur Group on Programme, Budget and Administration (GR-PBA) met on 6 November 2008, with Ambassador Jan Devadder, Permanent Representative of Belgium, in the chair. The Group considered the following items in the light of the annotated agenda (documents GR-PBA(2008)15).
1. Draft Budgets for 2009
a. General Budget:
Ordinary Budget, Service Budgets, Budget of the European Youth Centres, Subsidiary Budget for Publications, Extraordinary Budget, Pensions, Budget of the European Youth Foundation
(CM(2008)130 vol1, CM(2008)162)
Extract of draft notes on the agenda – General Budget (GR-PBA(2008)12)
1.1. The Chair informed the group that he had had extensive informal consultations on the basis of document CM(2008)162 which was distributed in response to the Deputies’ request to receive proposals from the Secretary General concerning the funding of the Action Plan, the 2009 salary adjustment and the Pension Reserve Fund. In general, the proposals were acceptable to the vast majority of those consulted with some nuances and one delegation insisted on further savings. France and Italy had distributed written contributions in documents DD(2008)602 and DD(2008)610 respectively.
1.2. Concerning more specifically the details of document CM(2008)162, consultations had shown that the three chapters were generally acceptable, with some fine-tuning. As regards the funding of the Action Plan, it would appear that a general consensus could be found around the Secretary General’s proposals with the exception of the postponement of the 2 new projects2 in the programme Promoting Social Cohesion. A majority expressed themselves in favour of postponement and a large minority expressed strong opposition. The Chair noted that he did not wish to reopen discussions on priorities which had already taken place before the summer. He proposed, in order to reach an agreement, to reintegrate the 2 projects into the draft budget and ask the Secretary General to find an alternative solution, for example by a reduction in the provision for the 60th anniversary; almost all delegations had been in favour of making savings there.
1.3. As regards the 2009 salary adjustment, generally speaking those consulted, with the exception of one, could agree to approve the CCR recommendation as of 1 January 2009 and to the thrust of the proposed savings to finance it. France’s proposal to phase the salary adjustment in over 2009 (1.9% at 1 January and 1.1% at 1 July) were set out in DD(2008)602.
1.4. As regards the Pension Reserve Fund, there was general agreement to fund the increase for 2009 in one go. European Pharmacopoeia member states could support the proposal to reimburse to them of € 3 million, for each delegation to decide on its allocation.
1.5. The Chair invited delegations to examine this item on the basis of the documents listed above. The main comments of the general discussion are summarised as follows:
- a number of delegations reiterated their position of principle in support of zero real growth of the Ordinary budget, some supported zero real growth of the General Budget as a whole and one supported nominal zero growth;
- a majority of delegations proposed to increase the efficiency gains contained in document CM(2008)162 concerning the Assembly, the Congress, the Court and the office of the Human Rights Commissioner from 1% to 2%, considering that all major administrative entities should be treated on an equal footing;
- with a view to finding further savings and to reduce the amount of previous year credit balances allocated in the 2009 Ordinary budget, a number of delegations supported the Budget Committee’s recommendation of a further percentage reduction on all budget lines. The Secretary General recalled in this connection that a significant amount of redeployment had been carried out over the past four years towards priority sectors and that administrative expenses per capita had been reduced by some ten percent in recent years;
- in response to comments by some delegations that the Action Plan should almost exclusively be financed through the Ordinary budget, others noted it would be hasty to refuse voluntary contributions if they were available for this purpose. In this connection it was noted that the Assembly of Contributors of the Human Rights Trust Fund would be meeting on 24 November 2008;
- as regards the 2 social cohesion projects, delegations in favour of postponement argued for the need to refocus on the core values. The considered also that circumstance had evolved over the past months and it was necessary to look at projects which could be postponed, and pointed to the efforts being made in the DG-HL through the postponement of the Yearbook. A number of these delegations felt that equivalent efforts should also within DGIII and DGIV and that both should be asked to prioritise their activities. In this connection, the Secretary General noted that both DGs had undergone significant prioritisation throughout his mandate and as a result resources had been redeployed to other parts of the Organisation. He also noted that the proposed cuts in consultant expenses would in particular impact the budget appropriations of DGIV. Other delegations opposed the postponement of the two projects, which they considered to be in line with the decisions taken by the Deputies before the summer break on the priorities for 2009 and on the follow-up to be given to the High level task force on Social Cohesion. They pointed out that the Yearbook was being postponed at the initiative of member states, not the Secretariat. Finally, an indicative show of hands confirmed the lack of consensus on this point (22 in favour of and 12 against postponement of the 2 projects). It was also suggested that the idea of postponing just one of the projects or postponing them both until later in 2009 could also be examined.
- almost all delegations asked for a reduction in the provision for the 60th anniversary, either as additional savings or to compensate the reintegration of the 2 social cohesion projects;
- as regards the CCR recommendation for the 2009 salary adjustment, discussion focused on France’s proposal to phase it in over the year (1.9% at 1 January and 1.1% at 1 July) – see paragraph 1.14 below;
- as regards the increased estimate in interest income, some delegations expressed hesitations following the recent decreases in central bank rates;
- one delegation reiterated its proposals that governments should pay for the participation of their experts in intergovernmental meetings, as in other international organisations. The Secretary General recalled that he had made a proposal to this effect in the framework of the 2007 draft budget but that, at the time, the proposal had not met enough support;
1.6. Summing up the exchange of views, the Chair noted that there was agreement for reducing 60th anniversary expenditure, but not on the postponement of the 2 social cohesion projects. With a view to reaching a consensus, he proposed to invite the Secretary General to revise his proposals as regards the financing of the Action Plan by reintegrating within the draft budget the 2 social cohesion projects, reducing the provision for the 60th anniversary by € 200 000, and by increasing the efficiency gains applied to all entities to up to 2%; and in this connection he invited the Secretary General and the Registrar to discuss what would be feasible for the Court. He also invited the Secretary General to examine to what extent the 2 projects could start later in 2009. The group would then come back to this matter on the basis of concrete figures.
Examination of the draft budgets in the light of the draft notes on the agenda contained in document GR-AB(2008)12.
1.7. Scales of contributions (document CM(2008)85): no particular comment.
1.8. Vote I: General Services: no particular comment.
1.9. Vote II: Programme of Activities: cf. general discussion above. The Chair also noted the request, supported by three other delegations, that part of the previous year credit balance be reimbursed to member states, in line with the Budget Committee’s views. These delegations also stated their intention to come back to this question in the framework of next year’s budgetary discussions. The Secretary General agreed in principle that the credit balance be allocated against one-off expenditure, but noted that the budget did not distinguish between short term and long term expenditure, whereas part of the expenditure in the Programme of activities was annual.
1.10. Vote III: Parliamentary Assembly: the Director General of the Secretariat of the Assembly informed the group that he would report back to the Assembly Bureau on the outcome of the discussions; if the Committee of Ministers decided to increase efficiency gains from 1% to 2%, to which must be added the transversal cuts in consultants and travelling expenses also proposed in document CM(2008)162, the Assembly would have to take political decisions on cuts in its activities.
1.11. Vote IV: European Court of Human Rights: a number of delegations supported the Budget Committee recommendation that the 211 fixed term positions created in the enhancement programme should not be transformed into posts but should be prolonged until the end of 2018. The Registrar of the Court explained the reasons for transforming the positions into posts, reflecting the structural nature of the enhancement programme and in particular to alleviate the much greater administrative burden of managing positions as compared to posts. As an example, out of the 211 positions, 90 expired at the end of 2008 and the remainder at the end of next year. This generated considerable uncertainty for those concerned. Also, under the new staff regulations, staff could only be employed on positions for a maximum of five years after which their contracts had to be terminated. This meant that experienced staff had to be replaced with new staff. This was inefficient and expensive in view of the additional costs linked to recruitment, installation and training. However, the Court did understand the need for flexibility in the management of its posts, which was why it undertook to fill a minimum of 150 posts with staff on fixed term contracts. Finally, it was explained that, there was no difference in the budgetary cost of recruiting staff on fixed term or on indefinite term contracts, including as regards pensions.
Summing up the exchange, the Chair noted that there were some hesitations to transform the positions into posts. He also noted, however, that accepting the transformation would not lead to any supplementary budgetary costs, but would reduce unnecessary administrative burden which itself would lead to greater cost efficiency in the long term. Finally, he also noted that the Court was guaranteeing a high degree of flexibility as a minimum of 150 posts would be filled by staff on fixed term contracts3.
1.12. Vote V: Congress: cf. general discussion above; there were no further comments.
1.13. Vote VI: Directorate General of Administration and Logistics: no particular comment.
1.14. Vote VII: Other: The Secretary General recalled the decisions taken in December 2006 (CM/Del/Dec(2006)983/11.2 Part 1) when adopting the current salary adjustment method. The Chair noted that 14 delegations could support the proposal to phase the 2009 salary adjustment in over the year (1.9% at 1 January and 1.1% at 1 July) as set out in DD(2008)602. Two other delegations accepted the Secretary General’s proposals and could agree that the adjustment be applied as of 1 January 2009. The Chair proposed to come back to this question in the light of written explanations4 to be provided by the Legal Advisor, so that the Deputies were in a position to take an informed decision.
1.15. Vote VIII: Investment programme: no particular comment.
1.16. Rates of various retainers, honoraria and allowances for 2009: no particular comment, other than made in the general discussion.
1.17. Subsidiary Budgets: Services, Subsidiary Budget of the European Youth Centres (EYC), Publications Budget: no particular comment.
1.18 Part 2: Extraordinary Budget: the Chair noted that the group could recommend the adoption of the draft Extraordinary Budget.
1.19 Part 3: Pensions Budget and Pension reserve fund: subject to the outcome of the discussions on the 2009 salary adjustment, the Chair noted that the group could recommend the adoption of the draft budgets.
1.20 Part 4: Budget of the European Youth Foundation: the Chair noted that the group could recommend the adoption of the draft budget of the European Youth Foundation.
b. Budgets of the Partial Agreements (cont'd): European Pharmacopoeia
(CM(2008)130 vol4 and CM(2008)130 vol4corr)
Extract of draft notes on the agenda – Budget of the European Pharmacopoeia (GR-PBA(2008)10 add)
1.21. The Chair recalled that the medium term plan (2009-2011) of the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicine and Health Care (EDQM) (DD(2008)525) had been examined in the GR-SOC on 4 November 2008 and the conclusions were set out in the synopsis (cf. GR-SOC(2008)CB8). Discussions in the GR-PBA focussed on the proposal of one delegation to include a decision confirming the exceptional nature of the reimbursement of € 3 million, as well as on the transformation of positions into posts and the creation of posts. Whilst recognising the one-off nature of the reimbursement as stressed by the Secretary General in document CM(2008)162, some delegations did not want to tie their hands in the future, should another opportunity present itself. As regards the matter of positions and posts, a number of delegations supported the Budget Committee’s recommendations.
c. Report of the October 2008 Session of the Budget Committee
1.22. The Chair noted that the group could recommend to the Deputies to take note of the report of the October 2008 session without further debate.
2. Co-ordinating Committee on Remuneration (CCR) - Annual adjustment of remuneration of the staff of the Co-ordinated Organisations at 1st January 2009 – 190th Report
(CM(2008)147 and CM(2008)147add)
2.1. The Chair noted that the group would come back to this item (cf. paragraph 1.14 above).
3. Unpaid contributions
3.1. The group took note of the situation of unpaid contributions as at 30 June 2008 and the payments received since then, as well as the information provided by certain delegations. The Chair encouraged delegations concerned to settle the outstanding amounts as quickly as possible. The group also took note of the information provided by the Executive Secretary of Eurimages with regard to the sum of € 79 942 relating to late payment interest for France’s 2001 contribution: the Board of Management of Eurimages recommended that the Committee of Ministers write off the debt in non-value accounts. The Chair asked the group if it could endorse this recommendation and noted that it could.
4. Partial Agreement on the European Support Fund for the co-production and distribution of creative cinematographic and audio-visual works “Eurimages” – withdrawal of Montenegro
4.1. The Chair noted that the group could recommend the draft decisions, as set out in the annotated agenda, to the Deputies, for adoption without further debate
5. Management Board of the Pension Reserve Fund – 4th report to the Committee of Ministers
(CM(2008)148 and CM(2008)148 corr)
5.1. The Chair noted that the group could recommend that the Deputies take note of the report at their 1042nd (Budget) meeting (25-27 November 2008) and amend Article 5 of the Statute as proposed by the Management Board, without further debate.
6. Any other business
7. Date of the next meeting
Tuesday, 25 November 2008 at 9.30 a.m.
Thursday, 11 December 2008 at 10 a.m.
Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue; it will be declassified in accordance with Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.
Note 2 “Social mobility” and “Europe of shared responsibilities”.
Note 3 Cf. draft decision n° 8bis.
Note 4 Cf. GR-PBA(2008)16.