Errors in EU spending on research and rural development almost doubled in 2011 compared to 2010, said the European Court of Auditors in its annual report, present to Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee on Tuesday. MEPs will now investigate how this happened and why the Court could not give a positive opinion on total EU spending.
For the eighteenth consecutive year, the European Court of Auditor (ECA) withheld a positive opinion on the spending of EU funds. Overall, the estimated error rate in 2011 was 3.9 %, up from 3.7% in 2010. The highest error rates were in policy areas where national authorities spend EU money under so-called "shared management" arrangements: rural development (estimated error rate 7.7%) and regional policy (6.0%).
"In these areas, we found that member states are not doing their jobs as well as they should. (...) Member states should agree on better rules and then make sure they apply them. They are the first line of defence in protecting the financial interests of EU citizens", ECA president Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira told MEPs.
Research spending errors double
The estimated error rate for research - managed by the Commission itself - more than doubled, from 1.4% in 2010 to 3.0% in 2011. The areas least affected by errors were administration (0.1%) and external relations (1.1%).
Audit Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta underlined that errors do not necessarily imply fraud: "Its occurrence does not mean that funds have disappeared, been lost or wasted. Errors could for instance be the declaration of ineligible expenses or mistakes in the calculation of expenses", he said.
Jens Geier (S&D, DE), the MEP in charge of supervising the budget spent by the Commission, said that "not enough is done to bring the error rate down", adding he was "shocked to read that 60% of the errors could have been detected by the member states".
Rather than seek to cut the EU budget, the group of member states calling themselves "friends of better spending", should instead step up controls on EU spending in their countries, "as they are taking the supervision too lightly", he added.
Budgetary Control Committee Chair Michael Theurer (ALDE, DE), was particularly critical of error rates in interim and final payments in 2011, which - in some cases - were even higher than in 2010. Insisting that spending control rules must be improved, simplified and properly enforced, he also welcomed the fact that the Court is now "modernising" by looking more into the results of the EU projects as well as checking the legality of payments.
The presentation of the Court of Auditors' annual report is the formal start of Parliament's scrutiny of EU spending in 2011, which will conclude with a plenary vote in May 2013. Work on checking the Commission's spending (i.e. the bulk of the EU budget) is led by Jens Geier, on Parliament's spending by Eva Ortiz Vilella (EPP, ES), and other EU institutions' spending by Andrea Češková (ECR, CZ) and Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR, PL). Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL) has the lead on spending by EU agencies and Søren Bo Søndergaard (GUE/NGL, DK) on that of the European Development Fund.
In the chair: Michael Theurer (ALDE, DE)