REPORT TO NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE  2   2   2
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REPORT TO NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE 2 2 2

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REPORT TO NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE Submitted by the Joint French and German Consular Office, North East England April 2005 Objective: To provide information to the NAO about the aims, objectives, operations, advantages and disadvantages of operating the collocated operations of the French and German Consulates in the North East of England. To provide this information in respect of the Report being compiled by the NAO for Parliament on the UK Consulates abroad and the scope for collaboration with other countries to deliver better consular services 1. Background Until late 2004, the operations of consular services to French and German nationals resident or visiting the NE Region of England were carried out from two separate locations. Each was provided with an office, and an Honorary Consul carried out functions to meet the demands for their services from their respective nationals. There are c 4,000 French nationals resident in the region, and c 8,000 German nationals. Many tourists visit or travel through the region especially in the summer time. Inward investment (eg Renault-Nissan, Siemens), universities, recruitment by local companies, and by NHS and other organisations have increased the number of nationals coming to the region in recent years. EU legislation, increasingly common agendas for security, ID matters, and passport requirements (eg for the USA), and on-line services have meant that there are areas which invited ...

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REPORT TO NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE
Submitted by the Joint French and German Consular Office, North East England
April 2005
Objective:
To provide information to the NAO about the aims, objectives, operations, advantages
and disadvantages of operating the collocated operations of the French and German
Consulates in the North East of England. To provide this information in respect of the
Report being compiled by the NAO for Parliament on the UK Consulates abroad and the
scope for collaboration with other countries to deliver better consular services
1.
Background
Until late 2004, the operations of consular services to French and German nationals
resident or visiting the NE Region of England were carried out from two separate
locations.
Each was provided with an office, and an Honorary Consul carried out
functions to meet the demands for their services from their respective nationals. There are
c 4,000 French nationals resident in the region, and c 8,000 German nationals. Many
tourists visit or travel through the region especially in the summer time. Inward
investment (eg Renault-Nissan, Siemens), universities, recruitment by local companies,
and by NHS and other organisations have increased the number of nationals coming to
the region in recent years. EU legislation, increasingly common agendas for security, ID
matters, and passport requirements (eg for the USA), and on-line services have meant that
there are areas which invited consideration of the benefits of collocating the two offices
under one roof. The close professional relationship between the two Honorary Consuls
(Dr Andrew Robinson for France, and Mrs Jo Chexal for Germany) over many years
ensured a firm basis of trust in the discussions, which led to the decision to collocate.
This decision took place in late 2004, with the German operations being conducted from
the offices of the French Consulate as from December 2004.
2.
Practical and Funding Issues
The French Consulate has operated for 7 years from rented premises in a well-known,
accessible commercial centre in Newcastle upon Tyne. It itself is collocated with the
French Business Council, a company limited by guarantee, set up in 1994 to help local
companies trade more successfully in the Francophone markets. Since 2002 the Council
also developed services on a wider European basis, and housed the NE chapter of the
German Chamber of Commerce UK, as well as organising a French Circle and a German
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Circle. Thus the logistical and relationship basis was well developed to ensure that the
collocation of consular services would be both smooth and logical. The French Consular
office is also much more accessible for personal visitors than the German consular office
was.
The collocation has reduced overall overhead costs through space sharing, and common
support facilities. The office rent and rates are provided in the main by income generated
by the Council, which sees great benefit in having the Consular, and now joint Consular
offices located in an adjacent office. In this regard, the joint consular offices provide
valuable information, linkages, contacts and sharing of knowledge about the two
countries for the benefit of three groups: the consulates themselves, the commercial
interests of the Council and the German Chamber in the NE, and the NE Region itself.
Both the French and German Consulates General and Embassies in the UK provide
information, some very limited funding, some training, helpful and continuous backup
support for requests, and annual meetings for updating on passport, visa, and assistance
matters. The Consuls are also engaged in representational work, often at important levels
with companies, visits by Ambassadors and senior Embassy and Consular staff, and with
the life of the region. They are a factor in bridge building, nurturing of relationships, and
Europeanisation of attitudes through the prism of bilateral contacts and knowledge
exchange.
3.
Staffing
The office is shared by the two Honorary Consuls, with their respective timetables
worked out for each week’s visits and engagements within the office. One member of
staff from the French Business Council also provides valuable backup support, especially
when the two Consuls are not in the office. A strong element of goodwill and
commitment from the Board of the French Business Council (of which both Consuls are
Directors), and from the staff helps to ensure that matters are managed professionally and
harmoniously. The staff is also multilingual, focussed on French and German but
covering other languages also.
A further advantage comes from having a presence in case of emergencies, so that at least
there is someone available to offer first-line advice, information and guidance. However,
the French Consul cannot provide, and does not encroach upon the German Consul’s
functions and day-to-day work, and vice versa. However, they do share the same office,
which they can work in jointly if need be, share the same IT equipment, telecoms
equipment, and can provide useful basic mutual support in the case of difficult clients,
emergencies, and similar occurrences.
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4.
Launch and Mutual Advantages
While the collocation took place without fanfare, a press statement was issued, to which
the Minister for Europe contributed a welcome statement of support. In it he noted the
advantages of such a venture to the host region as well as to the countries being
represented. In this respect, the value-added is not only economic for the two consular
services in saving on costs or the basic service provided (assistance, passport, advice,
documentation signing etc). There is also a gain for the host region in having the synergy
of information, knowledge, ideas and contacts from and to the countries concerned
concentrated and shared within the one facility. Of course, this depends on the desire and
willingness of the Consuls to share their knowledge, often in the form of informal
exchanges. In the case of this initiative, both Consuls set aside regular time each week for
such an exchange of views and information.
5.
Value-Added Services for EU Citizens
There are also opportunities to consider and plan joint events or areas with common or
mutual interest and impact. This is especially true in the case of EU affairs, where all
member states are facing agendas with convergent issues such as on-line eGovernment
services for their nationals, new arrangements for medical assistance, passports (eg
biometric requirements), judicial support after accidents or civil and criminal cases
abroad, common information about internal and external travel and security (eg Schengen
in the case of the Schengen states, and US visa requirements in the future).
The collocated office thus sends out a useful message about the present, and the future. It
demonstrates within a UK region that two EU states can operate collocated offices, that
there are savings and advantages to be gained, and that a blended approach between two
consulates, and between face-to-face and on-line services offer advantages to nationals in
regular and emergency situations. In the EU contexts such collocations are also valuable
in the context of future plans for greater sharing of information for EU citizens. This is
already the case with regard to the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty, but they are set to
be further developed within the provisions of Schengen 2 and the Constitutional Treaty, if
adopted. In this regard such collocations offer platforms for useful trialling of pilot
projects, where member states can do field tests on the suitability of service provision,
which has a shared element or dimension, before launching such services more widely.
There is thus scope for developing within such collocated consular services a third arm
which provides information about EU aid, assistance, services and provision for its
citizens. Examples already exist such as the EURES job-finding service, the eHealth
cards, and the EUROPASS scheme for recognition of qualifications. This third leg, which
the NE office already offers in an initial form, could be of great value in future,
demonstrating how the national consular services are more cost-effective by sharing
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facilities with another consulate, but also add more value by giving advice and
information about EU rights and entitlements for its citizens. It would of course be very
helpful if such services could be supported financially by the EC, or the member-state or
region, or on a shared basis. For the UK, it could be seen to be important to be in step
with other EU states in such areas of provision, and which demonstrates some of the
practical advantages to UK citizens through provision of information to their benefit as
EU citizens in addition to their national affiliation.
6.
Summary
The results to date of the collocated consular presence in NE England have to date been
very positive. Gains in access to the public, cost reduction, stability of presence, staff
support, and sharing of current and future developments are all evident. Certain things
still require attention: clear signage and new literature, possible larger office space in
future (but in the same location), a shared support member of staff if current demand
grows, possible joint leaflets and more comprehensive information support. The on-line
services are now growing, but nationals still want face-to-face meetings for reassurance,
direct contact, development of issues and concerns, and personal advice. This obtains for
all ages, and regardless of gender. The agenda for the future is thus one of anticipating
how the collocated services can best meet the challenges arising from clients demands,
the changing nature of delivery, both on-line and directly, the areas of common
international and EU provision (e.g. visas, biometric passports), and the interest of the
host region and state. All stakeholders have a direct interest in gaining benefit from such
shared approaches to helping citizens, it own and those it welcomes as residents and
visitors, in an increasingly interdependent, mobile and security conscious age.