TAIEX: Cooperation and development of skills
The European Union promotes the development of its neighbouring regions in various ways. One of the financial instruments is TAIEX, a short-term technical assistance and information exchange programme, which supports the development and reform of public administration and legislation in partner countries. TAIEX reaches between 25,000 and 30,000 officials each year.
The programme was set up in 1996 and it quickly became an important tool in supporting the EU’s enlargement process. TAIEX was extended to the neighbourhood policy countries in 2006 and the number of countries benefiting from the programme has increased further in the 2010s. Kari Kiesiläinen’s experience in strengthening Bosnia Herzegovina’s judicial system through various organisations and financial instruments spans 20 years. Kiesiläinen spoke about quality management issues in the judiciary at a TAIEX seminar in Sarajevo.
In addition to the enlargement and neighbourhood policy countries, the TAIEX instrument can be utilised in cooperation with almost any third country, as well as between EU Member States in the areas of regional, structural and environmental policy. However, a large majority of the TAIEX events continues to be carried out in cooperation with the enlargement and neighbourhood policy countries.
TAIEX mainly finances three types of activities: expert missions and workshops in partner countries and study visits from partner countries to EU Member States. Typically, a single event lasts from two to five days, with the programme created in cooperation by the experts and the representatives of the partner country.
Almost 100 Finnish experts
Finland has been actively involved in the TAIEX programme since its launch. Finland’s well-functioning society and good governance have created excellent conditions for sharing expertise. The European Commission and the partner countries therefore regularly invite Finnish TAIEX experts to attend the activities as speakers. Close to 100 Finnish experts visit the TAIEX events organised in the partner countries every year. In addition, Finnish ministries and agencies host TAIEX study trips to Finland.
Reijo Aholainen, Senior Ministerial Adviser from the Ministry of Education and Culture, Kari Kiesiläinen, Director of Development from the Ministry of Justice, and Ritva Suurnäkki, Senior Specialist from the Transport and Communications Agency Traficom are experienced TAIEX experts and know the strengths and development needs of the programme. To them, TAIEX represents not just cooperation but also an opportunity to strengthen their own skills.
“The work is demanding and sometimes undertaken in difficult circumstances involving local tensions. Working as a TAIEX expert is challenging but very rewarding,” says Kiesiläinen.
Significant results through cooperation
TAIEX is needs-driven and based on collegiality. When a partner country wishes to develop one of its administrative branches, it can request the European Commission to organise a TAIEX activity. If the Commission decides to organise the proposed event, it will seek the necessary expertise from EU Member States. By bringing together public officials of similar rank and responsibilities from EU Member States and partner countries, good practices can be shared and competences related to EU regulation developed.
According to assessments, TAEIX is a functional and effective instrument. The partner countries also rate the experts from EU Member States very highly, without exception. There is a clear link between the expert’s competence in the subject area and the result of the activity. In order to achieve results, the TAIEX experts must have a comprehensive understanding of the subject areas and experience of their application in the home country.
“However, in addition to expertise in a given subject area, an understanding of the partner country’s working context and the conditions that govern the activities of public officials is essential,” Suurnäkki points out. The experts should carry out background work on the situation in the partner country and be able to tailor a message that responds to the country’s needs, instead of offering ready-made solutions. Enabling dialogue between colleagues is therefore one of the most important added values of TAIEX.
“For example, it is worth considering in advance which issues may come under discussion,” Suurnäkki adds.
In partner countries, TAIEX events are highly valued and sometimes the expectations for results are very ambitious. According to Aholainen, it is important that the officials in both the expert and partner country have reasonable expectations for the event. Because TAIEX events are short-term activities targeting a specific development need, they cannot be expected to be as effective as long-term projects, for example.
“Nevertheless, if there is a justified reason for a TAIEX event, and it is well-planned and involves the right people, it can bring considerable benefits to the partner country’s administration,” Aholainen says.
Means of strengthening professional competence
In addition to developing administration in the partner country, TAIEX also offers the experts the opportunity to strengthen their professional competence. Preparations for the event and discussions with colleagues challenge the experts to consider their own work from a new perspective. Suurnäkki therefore emphasises that the practices and processes used in the home country should not be taken for granted in the TAIEX context. For example, an expert must be able to explain and justify why a certain matter has been organised in a given way in their home country.
“Correspondingly, we should ask the colleagues in the partner country similar questions and invite them to share their experiences. Considering one’s own work tasks in more detail supports professional development in a comprehensive way”, Suurnäkki says.
Aholainen encourages in particular those still in the early stages of their careers to acquire TAIEX experience. Working in an international environment requires an ability to take responsibility, to tolerate stress and to go outside the personal comfort zone. On the other hand, it is specifically the responsibility that helps the experts grow in their own work.
“Sharing their expertise would be a particularly useful learning experience for younger officials,” Aholainen says.
In addition to challenging experts to reflect on their own work, TAIEX also helps them to understand the choices made in other countries. Speakers from more than just one EU Member State often take part in a TAIEX event, which provides more opportunities for sharing experiences. Working as a TAIEX expert also supports the development of competence in this way.
“Cooperation instruments such as TAIEX are necessary for us to understand the systems in other countries,” Kiesiläinen says.
Demand for Finnish expertise to continue
The TAIEX programme uses EU funding to support the partner countries extensively in different administrative areas. TAIEX covers the travel and accommodation expenses of the experts and pays a daily allowance and compensation for the work carried out in the partner country. As a collaborative instrument, TAIEX supports networking and at the same time promotes a deeper cooperation between colleagues in different countries and organisations. TAIEX is therefore an excellent tool for exporting Finnish expertise.
At individual level, working as a TAIEX expert encourages officials to address new challenges and may open doors in professional life later. An interesting aspect of the TAIEX programme is participating in development work in countries that are not necessarily very common travel destinations.
“Working as an expert provides a real opportunity to become engaged in international tasks,” Aholainen reminds.
How to get involved with TAIEX? The quickest way to get involved is by creating a profile in the TAIEX expert database maintained by the European Commission. The Commission uses the database to find suitable experts for the TAIEX events. The experts can tell about their competences, expertise and tasks in their profile. Creating a profile does not obligate an official to participate in a TAIEX event or the programme in any way.
“I encourage all who are interested in utilising their expertise in international cooperation to create a profile in the database. The experts included in it will be informed of planned events, which makes it easier to apply for TAIEX activities,” Suurnäkki says.
The wide range of administrative branches covered by TAIEX over almost the whole world ensures that the demand for Finnish expertise will continue. It is therefore important that the TAIEX experts share the experiences gained in the partner country with their professional communities at home. Working internationally is often a self-promoting cycle which should be supported.
“International work has had a great impact on my life. I strongly recommend it to everybody,” Kiesiläinen concludes.
Author of the text: Eerikki Vainio
The author works as a Specialist in the National Twinning and Taiex Coordination Team at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs supports the Finnish TAIEX experts in multiple ways. At the national level, the activities are coordinated by the Foreign Ministry’s Twinning and TAIEX team, which advises on all issues related to TAIEX.
The EU’s enlargement policy countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.
The EU's neighbourhood policy countries are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus in the east, and Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian territory, Syria and Tunisia in the south.