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EU budget 2012 – member states must step up EU funding checks, say MEPs
EU member states must step up on controls on their administrations’ spending of EU funding, and face penalties for making the same errors year after year, said MEPs at Tuesday’s Budgetary Control Committee meeting, where the European Court of Auditors (ECA) reported on EU spending in 2012. The error rate in expenditure was higher in 2012 than a year before, a fact noted with regret by the committee.
Error rates up in agricultural and regional spending
Most errors were made in rural development (7.9%), followed by regional policy (6.8%). The error rate in agriculture rose to 3.8% from 2.9% in 2011. EU funding in these areas is managed by member states themselves, even though the Commission remains responsible overall.
"I greatly regret that we find the error rate hiking again. Failure to abide by public procurement rules and disrespect for eligibility criteria have been sources of errors for years, but the near-doubling of the error rate in agricultural spending is a surprise," said Markus Pieper (EPP, DE), the MEP in charge of supervising the budget for which the European Commission is responsible.
Stricter repercussions in member states
"Over half of the errors could have been prevented before national authorities submitted their claims for reimbursement", observed ECA President Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira at the presentation of the annual report.
To remedy this persistent fault, in the future national authorities which do not respect eligibility criteria or breach public procurement rules when funding certain projects should not be granted the same resources to invest in other projects, as is now the case. "If you break the highway code, your licence is taken away - you don't just switch to another car", said Mr Pieper.
Errors are not fraud
"Breaches of national rules account for significant part of the error rate," said Audit Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta, citing poor reliability of national checks and overcomplicated systems as the main sources of errors.
However, "Errors are not fraud. Irregularities mean that money was paid out without fully following the rules", Mr Caldeira noted.
Parliament to open "discharge" procedure
The 2012 discharge procedure will focus on problematic countries and areas, looking into the possibility of penalties to encourage member states with persistent errors to do better, and will explore options for future performance-oriented audits (spending is currently checked only for legality).
The presentation of the ECA annual report marks the formal start of, and basis for, the "discharge" procedure, whereby Parliament assesses whether EU money is spent correctly. The 2012 procedure will conclude with a plenary vote in April 2014. The MEPs in charge of assessing spending by the various institutions are as follows:
Mr Markus Pieper (EPP, DE) - Commission
Mr Frank Vanhecke (EFD, BE) - European Development Fund
Mr Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D, RO) - European Parliament
Mr Tamás Deutsch (EPP, HU) - Court of Justice, Court of Auditors, European External Action Service
Mr Bogusław Sonik (EPP, PL) - European Council, Council, Economic and Social Committee, Committee of the Regions, European Ombudsman, European Data Protection Supervisor
Mr Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, FI) Agencies
Mr Paul Rübig (EPP, AT ) - Joint undertakings
In the chair: Michael Theurer (ALDE, DE)