THE European Commission is to probe the recent awarding of the Leader funding project by Cork County Council to the group known as West Cork Local Community Development Committee (WCDC) over a complaint alleging it received ‘State aid’.
West Cork Development Partnership (WCDP), which was an unsuccessful applicant in the latest bid to distribute EU Leader funding, lodged the complaint in August.
‘On September 29th 2016, the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development notified WCDP of its intention to inquire into a complaint regarding alleged State aid towards a local community development committee and irregularities in the selection of a local action group under the Leader programme,’ the WCDP said this week.
‘This follows a comprehensive complaint from the West Cork Development Partnership to the European Commission in August 2016,’ it added.
Ian Dempsey, chief executive of the WCDP, told The Southern Star: ‘The specific complaint relates to State aid rules regarding public monies being provided on a selective basis to a single party in a competitive process, and the potential for that undertaking to distort open competition.’
However, Cork County Council said this week that it was not aware of any complaint, and was therefore not in a position to comment. But it added: ‘The West Cork Local Community Development Committee is a committee of Council. Cork County Council provides it with funding to support its work, in the same manner as it supports its other committees.’
Mr Dempsey said that while he did not have any indication how long the probe would take, he had no reason to believe there would be any delay caused to the programme in West Cork. ‘The WCDP has no reason to seek any delay and at all times in its history has acted in the interests of the integrity of the programme,’ he said.
When asked if the complaint might be seen as a case of ‘sour grapes’ by an unsuccessful applicant, he added: ‘It’s possible that they’ll [Cork County Council] see it that way. However, one should note that the EU Commission will not act on the basis of a frivolous or vexatious complaint. State aid complaints must meet particular requirements. The WCDP has been further advised in correspondence by the Commission that it will treat this in the same way as all other State aid complaints.’
There was no response from the European Commission at the time of going to press.
The WCDP was, however, celebrating a success this week with the news that it had been selected for a Leader role in Georgia. It has been chosen by the European Commission as part of a consortium to provide Leader expertise for the set-up of a new local action group in Georgia under the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development. ‘Georgia is not in the EU, but the EU have many programmes that support development initiatives in neighbouring and adjacent countries,’ Mr Dempsey explained. ‘The West Cork Development Partnership was chosen in recognition of its record in strategic local development but also because the rules of the EU programme require non-governmental experts and so preclude the involvement of local action groups that are tied to local government. The West Cork Development Partnership will support the local action group in the selection of projects and managing grant mechanisms. The bulk of the work will be done in 2017 with regular reviews of the project in the following three years.’