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Matteo Fraschini Koffi - Giornalista Freelance


The EU mission in Niger: two years for a few hours of training

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It has to form the local authorities but a lot just doesn’t work

Does it make sense to keep a European Union mission in Africa when only 3% of the mission’s budget is spent for the specific purpose that should be accomplished? Or finance for two years 50 expatriates who do not have the skills, the will or the means to work? And provide theoretical trainings to local authorities when they don’t have the proper equipment to reproduce in practice what they’ve learned? According to the Council of the European Union, yes. With a budget of 8.7 million euro per year, for an initial term of two years, the EUCAP-Sahel based in Niamey, Niger, should aim at "improving the capacity of the local authorities in the fight against terrorism and organized crime." The leadership of the European Commission contacted in Brussels did not provide documentation regarding how the budget was spent, but many sources inside the mission stated that only a very small percentage of the funds were used for projects on the ground. Officially, about 480 thousand Euros, 5.5% , was to be spent for operations in the field. "But we were able to use only 260 thousand Euros, about 3% – says a former member of the mission – and often we didn’t even know how to use that money."
The rest was used to pay the staff’s monthly salaries (between 6 and 20 thousand Euros), the houses, the 4x4 SUV (some arrived with snow tires because shipped from another mission in Kosovo), and all other related expenses of a 'circus' supported by the EU taxpayers. The apparent reluctance showed by Brussels in providing the details of the budget seems to confirm the controversial nature of the EUCAP-Sahel.
A civilian mission (although military personnel is involved as well), judged as a 'failure' from the very beginning when, in August 2012, a group of four people was installed in a hotel in Niamey to start it all from scratch: "For the first three months we were at the Grand Hotel. – says General Francisco Espinosa, head of EUCAP-Sahel for the first 14 months – Not only was the wrong place to work, but was also harming the image of the mission." Since Brussels had sent the group in Niger without the due logistical support, General Espinosa admitted he felt abandoned . "They should have sent the logistical staff in order to prepare the ground, – continues the former commander – but these are mistakes from which we can learn, so that no mission will have to repeat our experience." Mistakes which, however, some have taken full advantage of, so much that were expelled for reasons that must remain 'secret': "We are not allowed to talk about the reasons behind the sanctions against members of our group, – says Espinosa – not everyone has the right to know." EUCAP-Sahel’s administration department had only three people for the first six months, and two of them couldn’t renew their contract for reasons of negligence. Although the mission has declined to give further details, several sources have confirmed that the irregularities were related to cases of "indiscipline" and a budget management that "didn’t comply with EU procedures."
Moreover, the trainings given to local authorities are very short. In Agadez, the northern region mostly at risk, there’s been only one training of a few hours for 40 municipal police officers. The same work could have been done by experts who, instead of living in Niamey for months, would have arrived only for the duration of the course.
"After some time, a new auditor arrived from Brussels to control the budget, – confirms another source inside the EUCAP-Sahel – the abuses of his colleague were so serious that was unofficially requested the intervention of OLAF". OLAF, the Anti-Fraud body of the EU, has never intervened in Niger because it doesn’t have the means and was blocked by the leadership of the mission with the tacit and discreet approval of Brussels. "We tend to solve these problems within the missions to avoid compromising our reputation," many people say. Even the recruitment of the staff has been questioned in the offices of Niamey and Brussels, not only for the poor preparation of many participants, but also for the influence exercised by France and Belgium that is much higher than that of the other 8 donor countries (the use of personnel who has French as their mother tongue is not considered a valid excuse).
Some members of the European delegation in Niger said that they are not at all satisfied with the mission, even though the EU spent about 500 thousand Euros to finance its work. But the root of the problems for the EUCAP-Sahel is upstream: "The EU's external action service (EEAS) is always in conflict with the Commission – says a former member of the mission – and the EEAS, unfortunately, depends largely by the funding of the Commission."
A confirmation of these disagreements between the two institutions is the project 'Terrorism and organized crime in the Sahel' (CT-Sahel), also based in Niamey: "CT-Sahel serves essentially the same functions as the EECAP-Sahel – continues the source – but it is much more organized because is directly funded by the European Commission." According to some analysts, the EUCAP-Sahel was thought by France since 2010 as a mean to "counteract the pressure of Asian investments in Paris’ former colonies on the continent and safeguard their nuclear interests."
The second year of the mission began in November, and after months of research, last Tuesday the Belgian Filip de Ceuninck, already former deputy of Espinosa and interim commander, was chosen. "Not only no one wants to come to Niger – says one of the interviewed people – but there were quarrels between France, Spain, Britain and Belgium, who could not agree on the nationality of the Head of Mission."
Many members have left because they had earned enough or frustrated because of the futility of the mission: "I had a political idea very pro-European before joining EUCAP-Sahel – says a former Italian member that, with other of his countrymen, gave the resignation in a short time – now, as a taxpayer, I see everything with a different perspective."
"We’ve done only 5% of what we could have done," assures another member still present in Niamey. Espinosa, who arrived in Niger as a Colonel, returned to the Spanish Civil Guard with the rank of General. "A rank given to him as a reward for having spent the last year as head of a bad mission and with a salary of at least 25 thousand Euros per month," his former colleagues comment sharply.
Although concentrated in Niger, EUCAP-Sahel has a regional dimension, which also includes Mali and Mauritania. Mali has agreed to an extension in its territory only in April, while Mauritania, being aware of the ineffectiveness of the mission, seems reluctant to ask for the intervention. But even if Mauritania will accept EUCAP-Sahel on her territory, the European taxpayer would be entitled to know how his/her money is spent? Apparently, this seems to be very difficult.


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