President. – The next item is the joint debate on:
– the report by Christofer Fjellner, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2010, Section III – Commission and executive agencies (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0256/2011 - 2011/2201(DEC)) (A7-0098/2012),
– the report by Christofer Fjellner, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the Court of Auditors’ special reports in the context of the 2010 Commission discharge (2011/2225(DEC)) (A7-0102/2012),
– the report by Bogusław Liberadzki, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2010, Section I – European Parliament (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0257/2011 - 2011/2202(DEC)) (A7-0120/2012),
– the report by Martin Ehrenhauser, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth European Development Funds for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0471 - C7-0273/2011 - 2011/2212(DEC)) (A7-0100/2012),
– the report by Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2010, Section II – Council (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0258/2011 - 2011/2203(DEC)) (A7-0095/2012),
– the report by Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2010, Section IV – Court of Justice (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0259/2011 - 2011/2204(DEC)) (A7-0088/2012),
– the report by Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2010, Section V – Court of Auditors (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0260/2011 - 2011/2205(DEC)) (A7-0091/2012),
– the report by Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2010, Section VI – European Economic and Social Committee (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0261/2011 - 2011/2206(DEC)) (A7-0092/2012),
– the report by Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2010, Section VII – Committee of the Regions (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0262/2011 - 2011/2207(DEC)) (A7-0090/2012),
– the report by Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2010, Section VIII – European Ombudsman (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0263/2011 - 2011/2208(DEC)) (A7-0089/2012),
– the report by Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2010, Section IX - European Data Protection Supervisor (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0264/2011 - 2011/2209(DEC)) (A7-0093/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Union agencies for the financial year 2010: performance, financial management and control of European Union agencies (2011/2232(DEC)) (A7-0103/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0280/2011 - 2011/2219(DEC)) (A7-0125/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0274/2011 - 2011/2213(DEC)) (A7-0129/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Police College for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0290/2011 - 2011/2230(DEC)) (A7-0119/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Community Fisheries Control Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0293/2011 - 2011/2234(DEC)) (A7-0130/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Aviation Safety Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0285/2011 - 2011/2224(DEC)) (A7-0124/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0287/2011 - 2011/2227(DEC)) (A7-0123/2010),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Chemicals Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0294/2011 - 2011/2235(DEC)) (A7-0126/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Environment Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0278/2011 - 2011/2217(DEC)) (A7-0105/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Food Safety Authority for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0286/2011 - 2011/2226(DEC)) (A7-0106/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Institute for Gender Equality for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0351/2011 - 2011/2264(DEC)) (A7-0132/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Medicines Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0281/2011 - 2011/2220(DEC)) (A7-0107/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0277/2011 - 2011/2216(DEC)) (A7-0134/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Maritime Safety Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0284/2011 - 2011/2223(DEC)) (A7-0137/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Network and Information Security Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0288/2011 - 2011/2228(DEC)) (A7-0136/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Rail Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0289/2011 - 2011/2229(DEC)) (A7-0118/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Training Foundation for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0283/2011 - 2011/2222(DEC)) (A7-0135/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0279/2011 - 2011/2218(DEC)) (A7-0117/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Euratom Supply Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0295/2011 - 2011/2236(DEC)) (A7-0131/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0275/2011 - 2011/2214(DEC)) (A7-0116/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of Eurojust for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0282/2011 - 2011/2221(DEC)) (A7-0128/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Police Office for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0316/2011 - 2011/2255(DEC)) (A7-0111/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0276/2011 - 2011/2215(DEC)) (A7-0122/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0291/2011 - 2011/2231(DEC)) (A7-0133/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European GNSS Agency for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0292/2011 - 2011/2233(DEC)) (A7-0127/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the ARTEMIS Joint Undertaking for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0299/2011 - 2011/2240(DEC)) (A7-0109/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0298/2011 - 2011/2239(DEC)) (A7-0115/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the ENIAC Joint Undertaking for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0352/2011 - 2011/2265(DEC)) (A7-0112/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0301/2011 - 2011/2242(DEC)) (A7-0110/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0300/2011 - 2011/2241(DEC)) (A7-0108/2012),
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Joint Undertaking for ITER and the Development of Fusion Energy for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0296/2011 - 2011/2237(DEC)) (A7-0113/2012), and
– the report by Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the Committee on Budgetary Control, on discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the SESAR Joint Undertaking for the financial year 2010 (COM(2011)0473 - C7-0297/2011 - 2011/2238(DEC)) (A7-0114/2012).
May I welcome the President of the Court of Auditors, Mr Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira.
Christofer Fjellner, rapporteur. – Madam President, I will speak English. Normally, I speak Swedish in plenary, but I did all the rest of the work in English and when I tried to prepare the Swedish, I realised that some of the words would be easier – this once – in English, because I had used them during the whole process.
After an extensive process in committee, the report on discharge for the Commission for the financial year 2010 has now arrived in plenary. First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to both the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission for their very fruitful and professional cooperation during this process. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the opinion-giving committees for their input. Discharge is one of the main prerogatives of the European Parliament, and it is important that we all try to take part in it in one way or another.
Let me turn to the most important question of any discharge procedure: whether or not to grant discharge. As you can see in the report adopted in the committee, which followed my recommendation to grant discharge to the Commission for the financial year 2010, this was not an easy decision. We know that this is the 17th year that the Commission has not received a clean bill from the Court, and we can even see some small increases in error rates in certain areas.
The reason we came to the conclusion we did is that we got adequate responses from the Commission to the four priority actions that the Commission needs to address in the upcoming months. Specifically, the following four points for action will be addressed by the Commission and I hope it will confirm this today: firstly, financial engineering instruments; secondly, the Commission’s accountability instruments; thirdly, pre-financing; and, fourthly, the Commission’s supervisory role in the cohesion area.
We want action in all of these areas in exchange for discharge. The financial engineering instruments kept us busy for most of the time. The Court of Auditors found severe weaknesses in the implementation of these instruments, especially in the area of cohesion. As you all are aware, the Commission proposed using those instruments even more often in the future, which is why we invested a lot of effort in thinking about how we could correct the weaknesses detected.
The Commission is now being asked, in particular, to objectively and critically evaluate the use of those instruments and report back, and to assess the specific risks attached to the use of these instruments. Some people make it sound like these instruments are some kind of alchemy that create gold out of nothing, but we see risk and we see costs, and we want them to be evaluated so that we know exactly what consequences they will have.
The second point I mentioned concerns how the Commission assumes its financial responsibility for implementing the EU budget. At the centre of that question is the annual activity report and the synthesis report. We need these to be improved and we need them to actually show more than they hide. As a result of our deliberations, the committee required that the Commission deliver a political declaration in which it accepts its final and overall responsibility for the implementation of the budget, including the part which is implemented under shared management.
We also need the Commission to strengthen its annual activity report and for the signature of the Commissioner responsible to be added next to that of the Director-General, to show that the Commission assumes responsibility. We also want the Commission to analyse whether the Commission’s own corporate governance arrangements could be further improved, for example, by taking on some of the obligations it lays down on others in its Green Paper on EU corporate governance.
Martin Ehrenhauser, rapporteur. – (DE) Madam President, first things first. In our report, we propose that the Commission should issue discharge in respect of the implementation of the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth European Development Funds (EDFs) for 2010 and also approve the accounts. I believe that the Commission has made progress in numerous areas. I also believe that a large number of the requirements of the Court of Auditors and European Parliament have already been implemented. Nonetheless, I would like to address a number of points open to criticism.
Take, for example, the question of the integration of the EDFs in the European Union budget. We threw away a major opportunity to integrate the EDFs during the discussions relating to the multiannual financial framework. The new target for 2020 is easy to understand. That is a good thing and we must work with urgency to achieve it. We should integrate the EDFs in the budget when the Cotonou Agreement lapses, at the latest.
Another recurring issue is the error rates. The probable error rate of 3.4% is far too high, significantly exceeding the 2% threshold, and must be reduced. A stable error rate is not a success in my opinion. A number of measures have been implemented by the Commission. If the error rate remains stable, however, at some point one must recognise that these measures have failed and that new measures are needed.
The Commission tells us that the residual error rate is much lower than the 2% threshold. Nonetheless, the Commission fails to offer clear indicators to show how they came up with this calculation. The Commission is already working on a key indicator. This work should be concluded by 2013 at the latest.
The control and oversight systems are of only limited effectiveness. In this context, we need to address the delegations area in particular. An electronic monitoring system is to be introduced that will certainly deserve our close scrutiny. I intend suggesting to the Committee on Budgetary Control that we table an own-initiative report that will take a close look at how this monitoring system works and whether it is truly efficient and effective.
With regard to budget support, this has been a recurring issue for 20 years and is always a highlight as part of the debate. I believe that the control options are not really working here either. There is an urgent need to consider the case for reform. I am aware that the Commission, for its part, believes that there are a great many misunderstandings among some Members of the Committee on Budgetary Control in relation to the actual conditions as they apply. The proposal put forward by the Commission at the time that another hearing should be arranged to eliminate these misunderstandings is very good. This would be a good way to move forward here.
In our discharge report, we paid particular attention to the investment facility and the EIB. A number of observations need to be made, including the fact that the investment facility is not part of the statement of assurance from the Court of Auditors and is not taken into consideration. The lack of transparency among eventual recipients should also be mentioned – the fact that these recipients are not clearly accessible here is a situation that needs to be corrected as soon as possible.
Then we come to the question of efficiency and how money is spent. The fact is that around 14% of the investment facility is managed through European institutions and joint ventures. This is a very inefficient structure in my opinion. The money chain is far too long. There are too many intermediary institutions that earn money and interest in this way. We need to try to ensure that development aid does not become an end in itself. For this reason, I suggest that the Court of Auditors should produce a special report examining the investment facility in greater detail. I would ask for your support for this and for the other proposals contained in the report.
Jens Geier, deputising for the rapporteur. – (DE) Madam President, I am standing in, today, for Ms Ayala Sender, who is in Algeria as part of an electoral observers’ delegation and is thus unable to act as rapporteur for discharge of the other institutions.
Let me start with the good news: we intend to move that the majority of the other institutions should be discharged. We had difficulty with the granting of discharge to the Economic and Social Committee because, although various requirements of the European Parliament in relation to questions of travel expenses claims and similar problems that attract a great deal of interest in the media have been met, we are somewhat concerned to find that there have been some differences of opinion within the Committee in relation to certain decisions on appointments – I trust you will understand my wish to choose my words with care here. The rapporteur has expressed her concerns in relation to this issue at Committee level and we shall continue to monitor the situation. However, this will not prevent us from requesting discharge.
In the case of the Council, the situation is slightly different. Firstly, I would like to express my satisfaction and pleasure to find that the Danish Council Presidency is doing us the honour of following this debate. This is a first in all my time as a Member of his House. This is an encouraging sign that we are moving away from the phase where the institutions simply ignored one another during debates. I will return to this point at the end of my remarks.
Each year, we find ourselves in a situation reminiscent of ‘Groundhog Day’. In other words, we start the business of discharging the Council for its management of the budget, or at least for the portion that involves European Union resources – in other words, the general budget funds. We assess the documents and we ask pertinent questions. The Council never gives any answers, however.
Instead, we have received an offer from the Council to negotiate an interinstitutional agreement. This is something to be welcomed from my point of view at least because I have a difficulty when I find the Secretaries-General of the two institutions negotiating with one another, despite the fact that they do not have a political mandate – please do not take this personally Mr Welle – because, in my opinion, they have failed to pay enough attention to the aspirations, wishes and positions of the responsible Committee.
Thus, we have a proposal for an interinstitutional agreement on the table and the position of my group in this House is that we should put the opportunities offered by this interinstitutional agreement to the test. Unfortunately we are in the minority here, because most of my fellow Members believe that the documents describe the functions adequately.
At this point, I would like to emphasise once again that the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats does not wish to reduce the rights and responsibilities of the discharge authority, but that it would like to see how far we can get with the Council if we follow the strategy of negotiating this interinstitutional agreement. The main problem is reciprocity, as the Council insists that it should be allowed to examine Parliament’s auditing process, adopting the same high-handed approach as it takes to answering our questions to the Council.
One more thing, Madam President; the bottom line for Parliament is that we cannot accept a situation where civil servants from the Member States control the public representatives who express the will of the citizens of Europe. Everything else is open to negotiation, so perhaps we shall succeed in making a little progress today.
Monica Luisa Macovei, rapporteur. – (RO) Madam President, I am the rapporteur for the European Union’s decentralised agencies for 2010 and for public-private partnership enterprises. Discharge procedures are applied to 24 centralised agencies and seven public-private partnership enterprises. In the case of three agencies, I am proposing to postpone discharge, mainly for reasons relating to conflicts of interest and public procurement.
I would like to say a few words about the significance of the conflicts of interest. Conflicts between the public duties and private interests of those in public positions have grown as a result of the barriers coming down between the public and private sectors, of public-private partnerships, and of staff switching between both sectors. This has produced grey areas and potential conflicts of interests for those in public positions. The conflict of interest arises when a person in a public position has to make decisions which may affect private interests.
If conflicts of interest are not identified and dealt with properly, they can distort the allocation of public funds and HR policy, and can result in public money being wasted and in ordinary citizens losing confidence in European public institutions. This is why conflicts of interest must be investigated and punished during the discharge procedure. It is our job to look at conflicts of interest when we are carrying out audits and making decisions on discharging all the European institutions.
I recommend postponing discharge for the European Food Safety Authority. This agency is involved in authorising the safety of the food and drink we consume every day. Our health also depends on the decisions of this authority. This is why the conflicts of interest in this agency, mainly in the management board, are a matter of concern. There are numerous examples which have also been publicised. I will just mention a very recent one. Diána Bánáti joined an organisation funded by the food industry on 8 May, just two days ago, and resigned, at the authority’s request, from her post as a member and chair of the management board. There are other cases of this in the management board of the European Food Safety Authority, for instance, those involving the groups of experts. In addition, the meetings held by the board members in 2010 cost more than EUR 6 000 per person at the meeting, the highest cost among all the agencies.
The European Medicines Agency is the second body which I am suggesting should have its discharge postponed. This agency is also facing problems of conflict of interest. It has an extremely important role in the procedure for implementing, approving and authorising the medicines we use, which enter the market. The agency has drafted a plan for avoiding and preventing conflicts of interest. However, I am proposing to Parliament that we see how this plan is applied because application and implementation are the key issue. If it is applied properly, we certainly may come to a different decision in the autumn.
The third body is the European Environment Agency, where we have noticed problems relating to public procurement and the spending of public money. For example, a green façade which lasted all of five months cost around EUR 300 000, and was produced without going through the tender process and without being included in the agency’s work plan and investments. There are also other issues relating to public procurement and conflicts of interest even involving the agency’s actual executive director.
Postponing discharge is not an action directed against the agencies, quite the opposite. It is intended to help them and us resolve these problems together. It sends a strong message to Member States and the Commission, and in support of the proposals which they are tabling in the boards of these agencies.
Bogusław Liberadzki, rapporteur. – (PL) Madam President, I am rapporteur for the granting of a discharge for the European Parliament 2010 budget. As always when assessing the European Parliament for a given year, it is tempting to deal with a wider range of issues than the financial year in question. I would like to state clearly that we are focusing on the financial year 2010, while bearing in mind that this was the first year in which the European Parliament acted within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon. It was also the first year in which we had assistants employed under a different status than before, and it was the first year in which we had a full base year.
I would like to admit right at the outset that there were no large accruals or deferrals during this first year, which was progress as compared to 2009. Nevertheless, the European Court of Auditors still highlighted three areas where additional solutions and supplementary information are required.
The first is the question of payments for groups visiting Parliament. We must be careful in this respect, since the system has to work. Secondly, improvements in the purchasing control system. Thirdly and finally, better documentation in human resources management in the European Parliament.
As Members of the European Parliament, we, too, pointed out some areas where savings should be made, especially during the present crisis. In addition, as rapporteur, I have put forward sixteen relevant amendments.
We would like to suggest that savings could firstly be made by abolishing the Journalist Award, which was proposed in 2009. We would request that this proposal be acted on. Secondly, we would like to point out that construction costs for the visitor centre are overrunning the budget set. We would also like to point out that much more detailed information is needed as regards planned expenditure on European Parliament buildings, even though 2010 showed clearly that the construction and ownership of its own buildings is a cheaper option for the European Parliament than rental.
Security in Parliament is another specific package of proposals and solutions that we consider in this report. We note the progress made and the increased efficiency of translation, especially written translation. Clear progress has been made in this area, although much can be done within Parliament to improve the timeliness of requests.
Two areas that still require improvement are our internal travel agency, where we would ask for more analysis to be carried out in terms of the relationship between quality and the price that we pay for the service. We note improvements in the area of the IT system and we would like to point out that only 5.6% of the entire EU administration budget is spent on the European Parliament. Nevertheless, we could make improvements even within this 5.6%. 2010 has shown that progress has been made and that our institution’s work has become more efficient. I would like to thank all my fellow Members and the Secretary-General for their effective cooperation as well as the European Court of Auditors and our internal auditor for the results that we have achieved together.
Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council. – Madam President, I am very pleased to be able to participate today in this very important debate on the correct implementation of the EU budget. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Geier and the rest of this House for its very warm reception of the Danish Presidency.
Let me start by stressing the particular importance which the Council attaches to the proper spending of EU appropriations. This applies especially in times of economic and financial crisis, when many Member States have to cut their national budgets and keep their expenditure under strict control, and when European citizens and taxpayers pay even closer attention to the correct use of public funds, not only at the national but also at the European level.
On 28 February, my colleague, Minister Vestager, was in the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control to present the Council’s recommendation to give a discharge to the Commission in respect of the implementation of the budget for 2010. On that occasion, she was able to participate in a very interesting and fruitful debate on the implementation of the EU budget, which concentrated, in particular, on its implementation under shared management by the Commission and Member States.
It again became evident that the European Parliament and the Council share the same concerns. We therefore both addressed the fact that a large share of payments from the EU budget is still materially affected by error, and we both follow the overall aim of attaining an unqualified audit opinion from the European Court of Auditors. In that context, I would like to mention that Minister Vestager has informed her colleagues in Ecofin about the issues raised by the Committee on Budgetary Control during the debate.
I can only repeat what was said in February. The Council would like to see more progress in the financial management and control of EU funds. It encouraged the Commission to fully assume its responsibility in the implementation of the budget, to reinforce its supervision and control structures, and to strengthen its cooperation with and its guidance to Member State authorities.
The Council recalls in this context the importance of recoveries and financial corrections which are an essential element in protecting the Union’s financial interest and in improving the management of EU funds. Payment should be interrupted and suspended whenever significant deficiencies are identified and until corrective action is fully implemented. Unduly paid amounts should be recovered without delay and full transparency in the implementation of corrective action must be ensured.
I can assure you that the Council Presidency will make all possible efforts to make progress on this issue and I have noted that many of the Council’s priorities are also those of the European Parliament; I therefore count on your cooperation and support. We can improve the situation if all actors – the European Parliament, Council, Commission and Member States – work constructively together towards the sound financial management and an efficient control of EU funds.
The ongoing negotiations and the revision of the Financial Regulation are a perfect opportunity to improve and simplify procedures, and to reasonably strengthen supervision and control without creating any excessive administrative burden.
Finally, I have to say a few words on the disagreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the discharge procedure between our institutions. The Council is of the opinion that it is important to find a durable solution to this recurring problem and that this solution should be based on three principles: accountability, transparency and reciprocity.
Therefore, the Council has made a proposal to the European Parliament on the discharge procedure, and the Council has asked the European Parliament to appoint a formal delegation to discuss this proposal and to solve the outstanding issues.
The Danish Presidency looks forward to the continuing informal dialogue between our institutions on this issue, which we hope can pave the way to solving our disagreements. I welcome therefore this debate today and I am looking forward to a very constructive cooperation with the Commission, the European Parliament, the Member States and the Council.
Algirdas Šemeta, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, first of all, let me start by thanking you for the constructive and fruitful work achieved over the last few months. The Commission has been in close contact with your rapporteur and your colleagues on the Committee on Budgetary Control to discuss all kinds of issues related to the sound financial management of the main EU programmes.
Six Members of the Commission and the Secretary-General of the Commission participated in very lively discharge hearings. This intense dialogue between the institutions demonstrates the importance, but also the complexity, of the matters which we have to deal with. The Commission appreciated very much this trustful and good cooperation and I am looking forward to continuing to work with you on the topics we have discussed.
The rapporteur mentioned four priority actions for the Commission and I would like to stress that the Commission is fully aware of your concerns and your expectations vis-à-vis the Commission, but also vis-à-vis other financial actors.
I would like to highlight the implementation of financial engineering instruments as one example where the Commission has proactively taken into account the outcome of the discussions we had. Following the Commission’s proposal, Member States have to provide more focused and detailed reports on the implementation of these instruments. As a consequence, by the end of the year, we should have all necessary information to hand to provide you with an analysis per Member State and a comprehensive evaluation of the use of financial engineering instruments. But more has been done. In anticipation of the need for closer monitoring, the Commission proposal for the next programming period already envisages enhanced monitoring and control mechanisms for those financial instruments.
Apart from the priority actions highlighted by the rapporteur, the discharge report includes many more requests to the Commission. They are all being analysed and will be followed up. A comprehensive report on the follow-up to the discharge requests and on the concrete actions taken will be issued later this year, together with the evaluation report required under Article 318 of the Treaty.
I consider the effective implementation of these recommendations to be of the utmost importance in addressing the weaknesses identified in the implementation of the EU budget. We have discussed the role of Member States in the implementation of the EU budget many times already. Member States have a crucial role when it comes to the operational implementation of EU programmes and projects. The authorities of the Member States are paying out, and controlling on the spot, some 80% of the EU budget to final beneficiaries.
There is no doubt that the Commission will continue to assume its final responsibility for the correct implementation of the EU budget, in accordance with the Treaty. But to reduce the error rate under shared management, we do need the Member States’ cooperation and commitment to assuming their responsibility as the first-level financial actors in direct contact with the final beneficiaries.
As the last annual report from the Court of Auditors has revealed, Member States’ authorities did not detect and correct many errors, even though they had the necessary information available. Further work on effective – but also proportionate – supervisory and monitoring mechanisms in the current period and for the future is therefore necessary.
The Commission appreciates your support in further developing these mechanisms and improving the implementation procedures at Member State level. The provision of reliable and complete financial information and audit data by the Member States is one example of an area where improvements are necessary. We can see some progress in this regard, but this is not yet satisfactory.
This is why the Commission will, from now on, transmit the annual summaries of the Member States with an analysis of their content to the Committee on Budgetary Control, in accordance with Article 319 of the Treaty. Where appropriate, the Commission will make recommendations to the national authorities on how to further improve this reporting instrument so they can contribute better to the Commission’s assurance process. The discharge authority will be informed about these recommendations.
However, their publication remains subject to the conditions set in the legislation on public access to the EU institutions’ documents.
In this context, I would like to recall the importance of introducing a management declaration of assurance, which the Commission has proposed in the revision of the Financial Regulation. This would be an important building block towards an improved assurance chain between the management and control bodies in the Member States and the Commission services. Here as well, in the negotiations on the Financial Regulation, the Commission is on the side of Parliament to ensure the highest level of transparency and accountability from the Member States. We have, moreover, proposed introducing political accountability through the possibility of submitting national declarations of assurance. Provided that Member States’ national declarations respect necessary conditions, the Commission will, as an incentive, take those declarations into account in the establishment of its own audit strategy.
As regards the European Development Fund, we welcome the Parliament’s recommendations. The area of external aid is, by nature, a risky and complex one. An error level of 3.4% is limited but remains a source of concern for both this House and the Commission. We will take all necessary actions to further improve the EDF’s financial management, securing the effectiveness and sustainability of the EU’s support, which is badly needed by the ACP countries.
This discharge procedure provided valuable input for the negotiations on the next financial period. Several new measures included in our proposals for the next generation of EU spending programmes were inspired by the European Court of Auditors and the discharge authority.
The Commission will demonstrate its firm commitment to achieving all possible improvements. The discharge report on which you will vote is a clear road map for actions to be taken by the Commission and the other financial actors.
Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira, President of the European Court of Auditors. – Madam President, I am honoured to be the first President of the European Court of Auditors to be invited to address Parliament at this stage in the discharge procedure.
The discharge procedure is essential for European Union public accountability. It helps provide citizens with assurance as to what European funds were spent on, whether they were used correctly, and what was achieved with them. The primary responsibility for answering these questions lies with those responsible for managing European funds: the Commission and the relevant national authorities. They need to put in place systems capable of doing so.
The Court’s role is to provide independent assessments of the quality of their financial management and reporting systems. For the financial year 2010, the Court concluded that the European Union accounts prepared by the Commission do provide a reliable picture of what European Union funds were spent on. We noted, however, that the Commission does not yet provide a complete and reliable set of information on whether European Union funds have been correctly raised and spent.
On the basis of our own audit testing, the Court concluded that revenue and commitments underlying the European Union accounts were legal and regular in all material respects. In contrast to this, payments underlying these accounts were affected by material error with an estimated error rate of 3.7% overall. As in previous years, the area most prone to error was cohesion. We also concluded that systems were only partly effective overall and that there continued to be risks in the other areas of expenditure, which need to be managed and disclosed.
The Court recommended that due account should be taken of these risks when revising the legislative instrument for the next programming period. In particular, the Court stressed that reforms should focus on both reducing errors and improving the results we achieve with the funds of the European Union.
It is also important to ensure there is adequate provision for transparency. The Commission’s reporting on results achieved needs to be improved. In particular, we emphasised the need to set smart objectives and milestones for the new programming period. This is a point we also stressed in our recent opinions on the new legislative proposals governing the main areas of expenditure for the period 2014 to 2020.
In the discharge decision on the 2009 financial year, this Parliament invited the Court to present an opinion on the evaluation report required by the Lisbon Treaty. This report was delivered in February this year by the Commission and we will issue an opinion shortly. The Court believes that this first evaluation report represents an initial step in the right direction and provides Parliament, the Council and the Commission with an opportunity to discuss and agree how it can be made useful to the discharge authority as an instrument for European Union transparency and accountability.
The Court believes that an effective discharge procedure is essential for the European Union’s accountability and we are fully committed to working with Parliament and the other partners in this process to achieve that goal each year.
Csaba Őry, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. – (HU) Madam President, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament approved discharge for the financial year 2010 on 13 February 2012, at an extraordinary meeting. In our sphere of competence, that means four European agencies: the European Training Foundation, Cedefop, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, and the Agency for Improvement of Working Conditions. We were pleased to establish that the annual reports are in line with the actual financial situation of 31 December and that the procedures carried out and the cash flow in the year in question comply with the financial rules of the agencies. Our opinion matched that of the European Court of Auditors in other respects.
We could reach the same conclusion regarding the transactions that form the basis of the financial report. However, we drew attention to the need to work together more closely in planning future programmes and we welcomed the intention of the Commission to track Member States’ annual reports more closely. For example, in the case of the European Social Fund, the Commission is paying special attention to the added value provided by the European funds. In the case of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, we also pointed out the need to look at why only one third of the available amount has been drawn. This fund is the subject of quite considerable debate but, on the whole, I have to say that we are satisfied; this is the first year in which we do not have to raise serious objections concerning the financial management of the agencies.
Jutta Haug, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. – (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the Committee on the Environment is responsible for the budget lines for the environment, public health and food safety, and controls 0.76% of the Union’s budget. Overall, we were very pleased with the implementation rates. A full 99.26% of resources are tied up in the environment and climate change sector, while the figure in the LIFE programme, our flagship and our only financial instrument for the environment, was 99.4%. The rate was also above 99% in the health sector too. All the available information leads us to the recommendation that the Commission should be granted discharge.
I have been dealing with agencies in various capacities for seven and a half years. These seven and a half years have taught me that it is the decentralised agencies that do the lion’s share of the work in Europe, fulfilling the tasks assigned to them by the legislators, Parliament and Council under the ordinary legislative procedure. For seven and a half years, I have seen how the agencies are under particularly close public scrutiny. More than ever before, the specialist committees are particularly rigorous in exercising political control over the agencies. We want to know what staff in the agencies do, how they do it, and what happens with the resources from the Community budget. The agencies’ budgets are not arbitrarily organised in the budgetary process, nor are the agencies absolved of responsibility in the discharge process.
However, during these seven and a half years, I have never experienced so many half-truths, insinuations and misinformation being used to create an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion towards the agencies and the people working in them during the discharge process. This is not worthy of the working practices normally followed in this House. This fatal combination is the reason why the Committee on Budgetary Control has applied to defer the discharge for three agencies, the Medicines Agency, the Environment Agency and the Food Safety Authority. Of course, I support criticism of excessively high carry-overs to the next year and of the extremely high cost of governing body meetings. However, these issues do not justify the deferral of the discharge.
Speaking from my seven and a half years of experience working with agencies, I can only recommend that our decision in relation to granting discharge should not be based on an unholy mix of half-truths, misinformation and insinuations. With all the information available to us, we can confidently grant discharge to all agencies without exception.
Tamás Deutsch, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development. – (HU) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, first, please let me make a remark. Today, the part-session of the European Parliament is debating 43 reports concerning discharge, which means that we can spend somewhat less than four minutes per report on how the money of tax-paying European citizens is spent. To put that into numbers, the European Parliament is so amazingly capable that it can control EUR 1 billion in funds used in the budget of the European Union and the budgets of the various agencies every minute. In my opinion, if the European Parliament is that amazingly capable, then this body should be appointed as some kind of European auditing company. Perhaps this limited time is unworthy of such an extensive matter.
With regard to the question of cohesion policy, the error rate is lower than in the previous programming period. I feel this is important to mention because following the discharge procedures, the question of the error rate always tends to be used to cudgel cohesion policy. In the field of cohesion policy, the error rate primarily results from disregarding public procurement rules and payment entitlements. I think this certainly underlines the need for simplification.
Guido Milana, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Fisheries. – (IT) Madam President, the Committee on Fisheries has carried out an exhaustive job, considering that this is a post-Lisbon codecision matter.
In this sense, the execution rate was 97.20%, hence a good execution rate as recorded in the accounts. Despite this, however, under one of the headings, a specific heading, the heading for fish markets, number 1102, had very little execution, for which the Commission gave some quite satisfactory explanations, but these do not suggest that there will be much change in the following years.
Equally, one of the issues underlined is the execution of international fishing agreements. In these, the commercial aspect is too dominant compared with the aspect linked to growth in the sector: 72% is a commercial agreement. Therefore, the fishing agreements probably need to have a slightly different execution that takes into account the policy objectives of these agreements.
I will close, Madam President, with just one more small comment, which is that there are reports that have been challenged for almost a decade, the closure of which is still being delayed. This is a just a point of form with regard to the execution as a whole. Thank you in particular for the time allowed to me.
Morten Løkkegaard, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education. – (DA) Madam President, overall, we in the Committee on Culture and Education are happy with the implementation of the budget for 2010, which is also apparent from the opinion that the committee adopted earlier this year. Our satisfaction is expressed in paragraphs 1 to 4 of our opinion, the details of which I will not go into here. However, there is one area with which we, as a committee, or as Parliament, cannot be satisfied. This is explained in paragraph 5 and, to put it briefly, concerns a very promising pan-European TV network, to which the Commission chose to put a stop at the last minute. This was done without the consent of Parliament and the Council, and the reason given for doing so was the fact that we are living in times of austerity. Therefore, it is obviously a little surprising to find that, instead of saving the money, the Commission is choosing to spend it on the TV channel Euronews and a host of public relations activities within the Commission.
This is clearly not something that we, as Parliament, can be happy about, and therefore the Committee on Culture and Education, along with the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, has chosen to withhold the funds for the Commission’s budget until it commits to re-establishing the network concerned. Until this happens, as budget rapporteur for the Committee on Culture and Education, I cannot recommend the release of these funds that we are talking about, and I would ask the Committee on Budgetary Control to look into the matter so that we can get this important initiative re-established.
Renate Sommer, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – (DE) Madam President, I would like to give you our opinion on the discharge of Europol and Eurojust.
With regard to Europol, there is very little and, in fact, almost nothing, to find fault with. The annual accounts essentially reflect the financial situation in 2010, and all of the transactions that they are based on comply with the rules and are therefore also legal. The only things that stand out are the high carryovers compared with the accrued costs, which, overall, are actually low. Europol attributes this to the move to new headquarters, which is clearly understandable. However, Europol promises to take additional measures in future to avoid such high carryovers. In addition, Europol is committing itself to monitoring the implementation of the budget on a monthly basis from 2012 onwards. I recommend that we check whether that does actually happen. Against this background, I recommend that we grant discharge to Europol.
Where Eurojust is concerned, the annual accounts also essentially reflect the financial situation in 2010. All of the transactions here are also legal and compliant with the rules. However, here too, a high level of operational expenditure was carried forward to 2011. Eurojust’s explanation for this was that it was mainly due to an Organisational Structural Review project – a new computer infrastructure and the costs related to data processing. The agency has stated that it will improve all of this in future, and that it will also improve its compliance with the tendering requirements. I recommend that we check this in future, too, and in particular, that we check whether all vacant posts are actually filled in future. This situation has improved. However, if these posts are not filled soon, we will have to consider cancelling some funding, and that would have a negative impact on Eurojust. I nevertheless recommend that we grant discharge.
Véronique Mathieu, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – (FR) Madam President, I should first like to welcome the efforts made by the European Police College (CEPOL), which has made a strong recovery after the problems we experienced with it. I do, however, regret that the amendments I submitted in the Committee on Budgetary Control regarding the merger between CEPOL and Europol were not adopted and I should like to protest against the amendments accepted in the vote in committee and against this merger.
The Commission will propose a new legal basis to us, probably in the autumn or at the start of next year. I believe that the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) is much more competent than the Committee on Budgetary Control to adopt this new draft legal basis. Furthermore, I propose granting discharge to the three agencies (the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Environment Agency (EEA)). Why? Because we do not have sufficient reason to justify a postponement, much less to refuse to grant discharge in the autumn.
Wim van de Camp, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – (NL) Madam President, accountable spending of public funding is currently a matter of great interest in the European Union. In particular, in this time of austerity, we at European level need to show that we are being extremely accountable when it comes to what we achieved, in this regard, in 2010.
I am also a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and I have looked at various agencies and the Committee’s achievements in this field in 2010. As far as we are concerned, we are heading in the right direction. However, when it comes to the agencies, in particular, there are a lot of critical comments I could make, but I do dare argue that LIBE is heading in the right direction – as well it should.
I have two more questions for the Commission. First of all, the question of SIS I and SIS II. Do we have any more data on this at the moment? What are the spending trends (particularly since the system as such is not up to scratch)?
Secondly, the External Borders Fund. I get the impression that we are still under-utilising the funding there at the moment. It is striking that, on the one hand, our citizens are saying that external borders should be better monitored and that, on the other hand, we are under-utilising funding.
Salvatore Iacolino, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction plays a crucial role in respect of a priority which should perhaps be supported more strongly and incisively by the European Parliament, and that is the battle against drugs and drug addiction, at a time when addiction is not limited to drugs and psychotropic substances, because there are other addictions that should and could be better tackled through a list of actions that the European Union should support.
To go back to the assessment, we found that the financial management was properly carried out, and we believe that in the financial perspectives for 2014-2020, more resources should be allocated to a context in which adolescence is often subject to serious attack. Information sharing on the web is important, as are Facebook and the Internet, but these, too, can sometimes lead to specific types of addiction.
The monitoring centre could propose improvements for supporting multilingualism and we believe that it can improve its work, which is extremely positive, still further by introducing flexible measures in organisational terms. Stronger ties, which, in actual fact, already exist, with other agencies and with the Member States would allow us to confirm that the prospects for growth in this delicate area exist, based on a principle and value which is that of an overall strategy on addiction, and therefore not just on addiction to drugs.
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Transport and Tourism. – (RO) Madam President, I would like to make a few clarifications on behalf of Ms Ayala Sender, who is the rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Transport and Tourism and is not present today.
With regard to the funding of TEN-T, we welcome the mid-term review of the TEN-T funds for the 2007-2013 period. We think that it was an interesting year where the aim was to use resources efficiently. The process was results-orientated, and I would like this approach to be applied as well to other European Union policies. In this regard, we welcome the new proposal from the Commission on the multiannual financial framework.
As far as road safety is concerned, we regret the poor uptake of road safety funds, a trend which we would like to see reversed in the coming years.
On the subject of Galileo, we welcome the progress made in the EGNOS and GALILEO programmes. The launch of the first two satellites in 2012 marks an essential step towards the successful implementation of both programmes.
We should mention how important investment is in this sector, as it will have a beneficial impact on many European Union sectors and policies, particularly in the areas of logistics, sustainable transport and transport safety.
Thijs Berman, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Development Cooperation. – (NL) Madam President, the role of the European Parliament is, as is the case with every parliament, to legislate, to represent the voice of the voters and to scrutinise policy. We have those three roles. As regards the last role, namely that of scrutiniser of power, scrutiniser of the implementation of policy, we are not as good at that as we are in the role of legislator or that of voter representative.
This applies, in particular, to our scrutiny of the spending of the European Development Fund. This fund is outside the EU budget, thus a lot less transparent to us than the Development Cooperation Instrument. It is money that is spent outside the EU and, hence, it is even more invisible to us. However, we do have the power to grant discharge for it. That is very clever of us, but I think that we should not overestimate ourselves. National parliaments do not carry out audits either.
The European Development Fund should therefore be brought within the EU budget as soon as possible. That would strengthen our opportunities for scrutiny. It is very unsatisfactory to have to work like that. However, if it is brought within the EU budget, that should not be an excuse to reduce the total amount of development money.
Simon Busuttil, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – (MT) Madam President, I was entrusted with drawing up opinions for the civil liberties LIBE Committee. I have drawn up opinions regarding three agencies, namely, Frontex, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the European Data Protection Supervisor.
The LIBE Committee has now extended its competence to cover a good number of European agencies, and naturally we should not only establish new agencies, but also ensure that these operate correctly and that their allocated budgets are used appropriately. While carrying out my analyses, I identified a number of issues and practices that need to be improved upon, one such example being the use of allocated budgets during the year following the particular year for which they were initially allocated. This is a practice in which we ask agencies not to persist. I also came across personnel recruitment procedures which could have been carried out in a better way. In my opinion, I stated that these practices have to be rectified.
Nevertheless, I can say that the overall management of the agencies regarding which I carried out my investigations is satisfactory, and should therefore be accepted. Moreover, even the Court of Auditors declared that we should grant discharge to these agencies, in light of the fact that their annual accounts were legal and regular.
Iliana Ivanova, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Madam President, as shadow rapporteur for the Parliament’s discharge, I would like to thank our rapporteur, Mr Liberadzki, for the work he has done. In committee, I think, we reached a good compromise which identifies concrete areas for improvement. I urge all my colleagues not to accept any appeals to reject this resolution but, on the contrary, to support it. I will briefly address three points which I consider important in this report.
First: public procurement. We need clearer rules. We call on the Bureau to review all control mechanisms in order to guarantee the most competitive prices for the services and goods offered.
Second: security, which is still a major issue for many MEPs. In the report, we have targeted concrete areas where improvements could be made.
Third: the internal auditors’ report. We hope this will be provided to members of the Committee on Budgetary Control on time, so that we can make a clear assessment of the situation.
Now let me quickly comment on some issues arising from the Commission discharge. First, I want to congratulate rapporteur Christofer Fjellner for his excellent work and energy during the whole procedure. There are a number of important aspects this year, of which the first is shared management. This year again, the Court of Auditors has not been able to issue a positive declaration of assurance on the Union budget. I call on the Commission to find the appropriate tools and to apply stricter and adequate sanctions in order to ensure that Member States assume their responsibilities. I note, however, the presence of the Council at today’s debate.
The second aspect concerns financial instruments. Their use is continually increasing and they are indeed useful, but we do not know to what extent. We need to assess them better, using appropriate indicators, and to establish a clear link between inputs and results.
The third aspect is that of instruments for financial assistance. The EU budget guarantees loans and the balance of payments in the European Financial Stability Mechanism for a maximum of EUR 110 billion. This is almost an annual budget, and we definitely need clearer accountability and greater transparency with regard to operations under these instruments.
Finally, I would like to welcome the important role that the Court of Auditors plays in the whole discharge process, and I am certain that our fruitful cooperation will continue on all aspects of budgetary control.
Edit Herczog, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (HU) Madam President, I wish to give the opinion of the European agencies from the perspective of the European Socialists. We are speaking about the agencies, which form an important part of the European institutional superstructure. They were created by the governments in agreement with the Parliament to benefit European citizens by performing the assigned tasks. In other words, they were not established by accident. Every single agency was created through a political and policy-based codecision procedure, and their operation is sometimes very complex. These organisations are too important to be used for power games and political games, and suggesting their abolishment is also something that could have serious political consequences.
The agencies play an important role, which is why it is crucial that their operation and management be as flawless as possible, since that is the way to guarantee their good reputation in the minds of EU citizens. Nevertheless, the European agencies operate from less than half a per cent of the European Union budget. They are subject to just as strict controls during the discharge procedure as any EU body. In our opinion, such controls need to be proportionate with their weighting in the budget. Disproportionately strict control in itself is wasteful, and currently we feel that the organisations of the European Court of Auditors and the European Parliament in charge of the discharge procedure are using their limited personnel and material resources to deal with the agencies to a disproportionate degree. We believe that needs to end. It is unacceptable that we are wasting half our resources on cases accounting for roughly half a per cent of the budget.
We had serious concerns regarding the highly critical approach of the rapporteur, because she worked on a basis of guilty until proven innocent. Instead, we think that good faith and a natural sense of justice need to be taken as the starting point until the contrary is proven. I think that the remarks made so far have borne out our approach, since the opinions given by the committees were significantly more positive here, in the part-session too, than the opinion of the rapporteur, and I think that Parliament as a whole is more inclined to agree with that.
I now wish to address some points consistently raised in the report, namely, the question of how can we use the most appropriate procedures and tools to avoid potential conflicts of interest, especially in the case of those agencies that need to bring in industry or technical experts. We therefore recommend, as did the Ombudsman, that special attention be paid to this question. We strongly supported the European Court of Auditors preparing a special report on this topic, and we also strongly support the interinstitutional working group of the Council, Commission and the Parliament keeping this topic on the agenda. However, that is not a reason not to approve the 2010 discharge. I would like to say therefore that the approach adopted by the rapporteur needs to be reflected on. In the future, it would be wise to prepare a report in cooperation with colleagues from her own party and the other parties from other committees that is better accepted in Parliament.
Jan Mulder, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (NL) Madam President, although the Danish Presidency is not listening, unfortunately, I would, first of all, welcome Denmark to this meeting. It is the first time in many years that the Council has attended.
This is the seventeenth consecutive year that we have had a negative report from the European Court of Auditors. That alone should be a reason for Parliament not to grant discharge to the Commission. I do not think there are many national parliaments that would be so lenient towards their governments if that were to happen, nor is the trend heading in the right direction.
Over the years, Parliament has made a lot of suggestions as to how this could be done. The role of Member States is essential in this regard. As the Commissioner said, 80% of the money is spent by Member States. That is why the European Parliament clearly stated in Article 44 of the 2006 interinstitutional agreement that Member States should submit annual statements of assurance and that the Commission should then provide comments on them. Parliament would be able to analyse that and start a dialogue with the Commission on improvements.
For six years, Parliament has not been able to acquaint itself with those annual statements. That is extremely odd. If you have an agreement between three parties, then it would make sense to me that those statements should also be available to those parties.
I welcome the Commission’s statement but, unfortunately, the Commissioner did not make any reference to Article 44 of the interinstitutional agreement. That article is essential. I find it extremely unfortunate that he has failed to refer to it. However, he has made some progress. His statement will have an impact on the voting behaviour of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, which will probably differ from that of the Committee on Budgetary Control itself. At the time, they voted against, but I will keep the surprise until the end.
Bart Staes, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (NL) Madam President, I shall confine myself to five reports in this debate: the discharge of the Council and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITER), on the one hand, and the reports of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Environment Agency (EEA), on the other.
As regards the Council, I call again for reasonableness and for us to accommodate the demands of the discharge authority. We want nothing less than insight into the accounts. Transparency of spending is quite simply necessary, because the Council’s spending is of an essentially different order than forty years ago.
As regards ITER, I call for my amendment to be approved. It is aimed at reassessing the ITER project and at taking stock of our future financing needs.
Next, the agencies. There is a fundamental distinction between EMA and EFSA, on the one hand, and EEA, on the other. EMA and EFSA have been under fire for years and, as far as EEA is concerned, we actually just want to dot the i’s. As regards EMA and EFSA, I would draw your attention to the funding for both agencies. Seventy-three per cent of EMA’s funding already comes from fees paid by the pharmaceutical industry. For EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, that is not yet the case, but it will come onto the agenda. And that is dangerous. We need appropriate rules and, if we do not get them, the very least we will see out there is the perception that the results of product evaluation may have been interfered with.
The Committee on Budgetary Control calls attention to the need to fight conflicts of interest and the revolving door policy. With regard to EMA, we find ourselves in the role of a former director who has formed a consulting firm while still in office, who is now working there and providing consultancy to the pharmaceutical industry. That is a reprehensible practice.
Turning to EFSA: I visited the European Food Safety Authority in Parma just last week, together with an EEA delegation. The good news is that EFSA is committed to transparency and change. It has also shown that the efforts of Parliament and individual members of this House are really working. The work done by the rapporteur, the work of a member such as José Bové, is remarkable and is very helpful. EFSA recognised with much delay that there was something wrong with one of its former employees moving to a company like Syngenta. We call particular attention to the ties between members of the management board, EFSA’s scientific experts, and ILSI, a notorious lobbying organisation funded by food giants such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, BASF, Danone, Kraft, Monsanto, Syngenta and Unilever. That is problematic. It is good that the chair of the management board resigned the day before yesterday, because her ties with ILSI have been, and still are, too close. Incidentally, since yesterday, she has been in that organisation’s active employment.
EFSA’s scientific research should not only rely on research and data from industry. Independent experts and independent research must also get a chance. We have to monitor the ties between scientific experts and the biotech industry, the food companies and lobby groups. We are not going to grant discharge now because we want to issue a concrete action plan, so that in October, we can grant discharge to EFSA, too.
With regard to the Court of Auditors, I ask that a report on potential conflicts of interest at EMA and EFSA be published urgently.
Finally, a few brief comments on the European Environment Agency. The agency’s utility value is not at issue. However, what is at issue are a number of past practices: director’s ties with an NGO and potential problems concerning public procurement. I call for close cooperation between Parliament and the EEA so that we can clear up these matters and so that we can grant discharge to the agency in October. Thank you, Madam President, for allowing me to speak for a few additional seconds.
Andrea Češková, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (CS) Madam President, I would like to start by thanking the rapporteurs for their work and their rational approach. The European Court of Auditors has found a whole series of deficiencies in the running of individual bodies and agencies, just as in previous years.
With regard to the Commission, we see a recurring problem in the sharing of management in cooperation with Member State audit bodies. In view of the fact that there are two areas with an alarming error rate, we must rapidly adopt a regime that would enable the Commission to assess the individual problems of Member States and react to them in time.
The large number of errors in the management of individual agencies is of concern. We are therefore pleased that the rapporteur decided to postpone the granting of discharge for four of them. We should think about how to achieve a reduction in operating costs, for example, by sharing services between agencies according to geographical proximity or according to policy area.
With regard to the European Parliament, we support the search for savings. For example, it is possible to reduce expenditure on awards, as the rapporteur has already said here, or reduce expenditure on the presentation of Parliament, such as the expenditure on the Parliamentarium or the House of European History.
I would like to end by saying that until the EU budget as a whole receives a positive statement of assurance from the Court of Auditors, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group has decided not to support a grant of discharge for any part of the EU budget, and, on the contrary, has decided to support a postponement in the cases proposed by the rapporteur.
Marta Andreasen, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Madam President, the procedure whereby we in this House approve the use of the EU budget by the Commission and the other institutions is our greatest responsibility as representatives of the citizens of the Member States. Yet, year after year, while the Court of Auditors fails to give the EU spending a clean bill of health, this House is happy to approve the management’s performance.
The auditors’ report for the year 2010 reveals that the error rate – a fine name for the irregular use of funds – has grown from 3.3% to 3.7%. They add that 50% of the transactions sampled were affected by errors. How can we tell taxpayers that their money has been properly spent when we have this situation? Worse, how can we ask taxpayers to put even more into policy areas such as cohesion, energy and transport, where the error rate has increased to an astonishing 7.7%?
The increase in the number of agencies from three to 24 in a decade is a matter of concern. The Commission seems to have little control over them, which means that, in the discharge reports, one sees the same stories again and again: conflicts of interest and a revolving door to outside employers at least as efficient as the ones in this building.
Yet while this House is prepared to turn a blind eye to the deficiencies of those responsible for most of the budget, including itself, it puts great energy into refusing to approve the management of the Council’s budget. It is not that I want to defend the Council, but this is merely playing politics – and that, in essence, is what the discharge procedure has become, a political game. So, dear taxpayers, nobody actually cares how your money is spent. The solution? Stop sending money to Brussels!
Søren Bo Søndergaard, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DA) Madam President, the European Union has an annual turnover of billions of euro. This is effected by the Commission, the Council, Parliament and a whole host of institutions and agencies. These several billion euro have not just fallen from the sky. They come from hard-working taxpayers in the 27 Member States. What is more, these are taxpayers who have experienced cuts and reductions in recent years. Therefore, an absolutely key question is: who is checking, on behalf of these taxpayers, how all of this money is being spent?
The European Parliament is the only institution that is directly elected by EU citizens. The answer is therefore the European Parliament, as national parliaments cannot scrutinise the whole of the EU. Or perhaps is it more correct to say that Parliament does this where most EU institutions are concerned. Parliament does not do this where the Council is concerned, however, simply because the Council refuses to answer the questions we ask about its accounts. The Council has had various explanations for why it considers itself to be above parliamentary scrutiny. First of all, the Council referred to the so-called gentlemen’s agreement, but when we dug this out, it emerged that it was a unilateral declaration by the Council – a declaration which, incidentally, originates from 1970, that is to say, nine years before Parliament was even directly elected.
Now the Council is referring to the fact that, pursuant to the Treaty, Parliament is only permitted to approve the Commission’s accounts, and when it has done so, it will also have approved the accounts of all the other EU institutions. I think this is a very interesting point of view, as the only logical conclusion we can draw from this is that, in future, we will have to put our questions concerning the Council’s accounts to the Commission. If the Commission is unable to answer them, it will obviously have consequences for our approval of the Commission’s accounts. That would, of course, be absurd. Therefore, I also hope that the Council will see sense and answer the questions that we have put to it. There is rarely complete agreement in a parliament, but in the Committee on Budgetary Control’s recommendation for this meeting, there was absolute unanimity on postponing the decision concerning the Council’s accounts to the autumn. We have thereby shown our good will, as it will give the Council and the Danish Presidency yet another opportunity to tackle this secrecy and instead accept budgetary control by Parliament, which applies to all other EU institutions. Better late than never!
Lucas Hartong (NI). – (NL) Madam President, the Court of Auditors has recently come before us with fine reports on the closure of accounts for 2010. Subsequently, rapporteur Macovei gave excellent comments on those reports by the Court. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot has gone wrong, especially as regards the agencies.
Today, we will be voting on a large number of amendments to those reports. As usual, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament is against more transparency, against greater control of expenditure and against calling the agencies to order. The delegation of the Dutch D66 party also seems to have joined in with this. Namely, it has tabled a number of amendments in order to undo the transparency and drop as soon as possible the excellent conclusions and recommendations, particularly those concerning the shambles in the agencies. Unbelievable!
Ronald Reagan once said: ‘We want to check government spending and they want to spend government cheques’. The delegation of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) wants to check spending, not spend more. Therefore, a word of thanks to the Court of Auditors and the rapporteur for their good work and a word of contempt to the S&D Group and D66.
Monika Hohlmeier (PPE). – (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to discuss the subject of development aid. The question of budget aid has been a concern for us in the context of development aid for many years. I would like to express my thanks to the Court of Auditors for its numerous very sensible suggestions on this subject. I would also like to thank Commissioner Piebalgs for his increasing efforts to regulate budget aid in a sensible way. Budget aid is appropriate if there is a degree of certainty that the local administration is capable of using this budget aid to implement the projects undertaken in cooperation with the European Union.
Secondly, we need to come up with a consistent concept in the area of development aid. I find myself repeating at every discharge hearing that all development aid spending needs to be introduced into the Commission budget at the same time and not just because we want to avoid exceeding the 1% limit. The money will certainly be spent. The question is simply whether it is spent in a coordinated, consistent and mutually agreed way and whether the European Parliament can play a role in spending decisions, rather than just monitoring spending.
It is for this reason that I believe it is necessary to focus on the question of long-term and short-term measures in the context of development aid. We need long-term sustainable measures that will lead to improvements in the relevant countries as the years progress. Naturally, we also need short-term measures that can provide rapid relief in response to disasters, such as earthquakes, etc. However, when it comes to long-term projects, we cannot allow standards to be relaxed simply because the conditions in a particular country are not what they might be. Our projects need to make sense and have a purpose, otherwise we will find ourselves spending money for no good reason.
Jens Geier (S&D). – (DE) Madam President, Ms Andreasen has just asked the European taxpayer to stop paying money to Brussels because, supposedly, no one is interested in spending practices. Exactly the opposite is true. This House is extremely interested in the spending practices of the EU institutions and what happens with the European taxpayers’ money. The problem is that our conclusions are different from those of Ms Andreasen. The Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats certainly comes to very different conclusions in relation to the situation of the European agencies.
Let me give you a brief run-down based on the example of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Thanks to the work of our rapporteur of last year, Mr Stavrakakis, the EMA now has the strictest ‘Conflict of interest’ system in Europe. The rapporteur for the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) has come to the conclusion that this is not enough and suggests that the discharge should be deferred, arguing that this system must first prove itself. This is precisely the opposite of the burden of proof outlined by Ms Herczog in her contribution.
Ms Macovei, if the effectiveness of this system is to be put to the test, then this is the job of the next rapporteur, Mr Gerbrandy from the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. If we find that the system does not work, then we can fine-tune it. However, to insist that an agency should not be discharged until the system has proven itself is to turn the burden of proof on its head.
At this point, I fail to understand your claim that you are not seeking to damage the agency. The damage has already been done. We simply need to take a look at how the media has reported on your report, questioning the independence of stakeholders or experts in the agencies. You have already inflicted the damage that you say you wanted to avoid.
We do indeed have a problem. The problem is that we cannot find independent rapporteurs or experts because you will find it difficult to identify university lecturers who have not worked for industry in the past. It is also the function of the agencies to cooperate with the private sector.
Perhaps we really do need absolute clarity in declarations, separation of responsibilities and regulations. This cannot be achieved by deferring the discharge, however, Ms Macovei. For this reason, we will not be supporting your report.
Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE). – (NL) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to ask who among you personally knows Professor McGlade, the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency (EEA)? I am asking that because most of you are on the verge of calling her integrity into serious doubt. This is the case despite the fact that, year in year out, the EEA has been viewed as an example of how an agency ought to be managed, despite the fact that, year in year out, the European Court of Auditors has stated that everything is fine with the EEA, and despite the fact that the EEA itself has refuted all the allegations or has shown that they simply are not true.
Postponing discharge is nothing more than a political motion of no-confidence against the current director. To be perfectly honest with you, the only conflict of interest that I see in Professor McGlade is the one between her incredible commitment to the agency of twenty hours per day and her personal health. That is the only real conflict.
The lack of any grounds for the postponement of discharge for the EEA makes me wonder if there might be a hidden agenda here. Might the EEA be too strong? Might Professor McGlade be too good a director? I hope that is not the case and I therefore make an urgent appeal, especially to the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), to stop chasing shadows and to just grant discharge to the European Environment Agency, which it is entitled to.
José Bové (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Madam President, I should like to speak about the issue of granting discharge to agencies and specifically, the European Food Safety Authority. More than two years ago, I questioned Mr Dali about a possible conflict of interest concerning the President of that agency, Ms Bánáti. It turned out that I was correct: yesterday, Ms Bánáti was forced to resign on the eve of the forthcoming vote. Since she resigned, she has been recruited as director of the largest international agri-food lobby, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which brings together all the companies in the sector. We now have a genuine problem. Everyone is aware of that, including the director of that agency herself. We need to take a close look at the issue of conflicts of interest and the transparency of assessments. The same goes for medicines. Today, I am asking to postpone the vote on the discharge, not for financial reasons, but, very specifically, to ask the Commission to introduce clear rules in favour of transparency and against conflicts of interest.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Edit Herczog (S&D), Blue-card question. – Madam President, I would like to ask Mr Bové whether he would agree that we should call on the Council to ensure that they send the right people to the management board. It is not the right way not to give discharge for 2010. We have to call on the Council to make a good decision in selecting the management board. It is the Council’s job and the responsibility of the Member States. This may be right or wrong but it has nothing to do with the discharge.
This is our point. We are very happy that the Council is here. I ask Mr Bové if he would agree that we should ask the Council to take measures to send the right people to any management board?
José Bové (Verts/ALE), Blue-card answer. – (FR) I think that this is a positive move, but it is not enough. We need clear rules. We do not, however, have clear rules on conflicts of interest at the moment, not only for the appointment of management boards, but also for the appointment of experts. That is why I think that we have to take our time. If we refuse to grant this discharge, we shall have an historic opportunity to create transparency so that there can be no ambiguity about these agencies. I am in favour of the agencies and their development, and also of an increase in their state funding to avoid conflicts of interest with the private sector. I am campaigning today to strengthen the agencies, but that can only be done by combating conflicts of interest and ensuring transparency.
Philip Bradbourn (ECR). – Madam President, here we are again. Year after year, nothing changes and European taxpayers’ money continues to be wasted. The stark truth is that in 2012, we are still being asked to grant discharge to accounts which the Court of Auditors has condemned. ECR MEPs believe that taxpayers have a right to expect their money will be spent properly, so today we will be voting against the discharge. In some areas, we have gone backwards in tackling mis-spending. The error rate in Structural Funds has increased significantly, which is particularly disappointing given the Commission’s rhetoric on improving the situation in regional policy. There has been a clear failure of oversight from the Commission so I am encouraged that the Committee on Budgetary Control accepted our proposal that there should be a full-time budgetary control commissioner in the next Commission term. Such an important role cannot be a part-time job if we are serious about protecting taxpayers’ money.
It is also good news that the committee agreed with us on refusing to grant discharge to three agencies, but we should not have granted discharge to any of the agencies until they could demonstrate responsible management of public money. In such a difficult time for the European economy, it is completely unacceptable that even a penny of taxpayers’ money is squandered.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
IN THE CHAIR: ALEJO VIDAL-QUADRAS Vice-President
Jens Geier (S&D), Blue-card question. – (DE) Mr Bradbourn, I share many of the opinions you have expressed. I have one question for you, however, in light of the judgment of the European Court of Auditors that the United Kingdom is responsible for 10% of the errors in cohesion policy: what is the Conservative Party of Great Britain doing to eliminate this mismanagement by British administrative authorities?
Philip Bradbourn (ECR), Blue-card answer. – Mr President, the question the gentleman asks relates to the 2010 budget discharge when the Conservative Party was not in government in the UK. It was a Socialist party that was in government in the UK, so I suggest he addresses the question to them.
Mikael Gustafsson (GUE/NGL). – (SV) Mr President, I will just focus on the report concerning discharge in respect of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). As you all know, EIGE meets all the requirements for sound finances and fulfils its commitments according to its remit.
Unfortunately, a sentence has been slipped into paragraph 3 of the committee’s proposal proposing a merger of EIGE with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). This is a very strange proposal in view of the fact that EIGE was set up only a few years ago after more than 10 years of pressure from this Parliament. Even though EIGE and FRA clearly have aspects in common, there are also a lot of ways in which they differ.
EIGE focuses exclusively on gender and the structures and policy that could make us more effective within the area of gender equality. It concerns the labour market, social security, decision making and being able to combine work with family life. The European Parliament places gender equality high on the agenda, even when the Member States sometimes lack vision and ideas. We therefore need a fully-fledged institute that acts as a resource and that carries out indicative background work and monitoring within this important policy area. Paragraph 3 should therefore be deleted.
Hans-Peter Martin (NI). – (DE) Mr President, I was the rapporteur on the discharge of the agencies in 2008. At the time, I wrote a wide variety of reports dealing with the issues criticised here in plenary and suggested that discharge should not be granted to 16 out of 20 agencies. These proposals were all voted down at the time. For this reason, I have a lot of sympathy for Ms Macovei, as she has succeeded in obtaining majority support on three report issues in the Committee, but is obviously finding this support waning. This development is very regrettable. I do not believe it reflects the will of Parliament that we should carry out such controls.
I also regret the fact that you have failed to block the granting of discharge to a report relating to the ITER undertaking and that there was obviously no initiative in this regard. If one reads your report, it is evident that you are highly critical of numerous points. However, it is not clear that discharge is likewise to be blocked in points 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 13 and 27.
Marian-Jean Marinescu (PPE). – (RO) Mr President, interinstitutional cooperation between Parliament and the Council is vital for supervising the budget’s implementation. This is why any stalemate caused by the Council’s lack of compliance with the requests made by Parliament, in its capacity as the decision-making authority on budget discharge, is regrettable and damages this process. The decision to postpone the budget discharge must not be regarded as an obstacle hindering the negotiation process between Parliament and the Council. However, Parliament needs to stick to its guns and refuse to grant budget discharge if the Council is not going to comply with Parliament’s requests and meet all the conditions it has stipulated.
The European Economic and Social Committee gave a prompt response to the comments made by Parliament. However, Parliament must keep a close eye on the investigations being conducted by OLAF and the European Ombudsman into the alleged irregularities in the administration of the Economic and Social Committee.
The Court of Justice of the European Union has adopted measures aimed at improving the internal workflow by introducing the e-Curia application. The European Court of Auditors has decided on a 6% increase in the number of posts devoted exclusively to carrying out audits. The pilot project involving the outsourcing of audit activities must be monitored closely. The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) will support the discharge of these institutions.
Barbara Weiler (S&D). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk about the European Development Fund (EDF), and I am confident that we will be able to reach agreement in this area, not only in committee, but also in plenary. This debate – and this is surely also important to mention – is taking place under the very particular circumstances of the hard times of economic and financial crisis within the European Union and, essentially, also worldwide. That is precisely why the attention of the general public is also on our debate here concerning discharge and the review of the budget. After all, we all actually want the budget to be correctly implemented and for it to be meaningful and, above all – I mention this with regard to the EDF in particular – sustainable, too. The EDF is our most important instrument for reducing poverty, that is to say, in the best interests of the European Union, for preventing wars and also for giving people prospects for the future. I am absolutely convinced that that is also the way the citizens and taxpayers see it.
The Social Democrats support the report that we voted on in committee, although this was only after our amendments had been adopted and the report took a slightly different direction, as meaningful and necessary criticism is only right and proper. However, as Ms Herczog already mentioned, an attempt at politicisation is being made here, for example, with regard to the criticism of the United Nations. It goes without saying that the UN must improve its efficiency and, in particular, become more transparent. However, it is also an important partner for our work and it has useful infrastructure. We must, in any case, provide training in our offices and increase capacity, as that is the only way to work efficiently.
That is something I would like to emphasise and, to conclude, I would like to state that we need a common assessment of the error rate and, of course, also a different agricultural policy.
Olle Schmidt (ALDE). – (SV) Mr President, Europe has major economic and political problems. There are no excuses for carelessness with public funds, and the error rate in the budget is unacceptably high. However, the Commission itself is not responsible for all of the errors, we know that.
The Member States bear the main responsibility, and the major shortcomings that were mentioned earlier with regard to how the money is used at national level are unacceptable. Responsible politicians in these Member States must take responsibility for these errors – whether they are right or left leaning. It is no good pointing the finger at Brussels and the EU when it is your own management of the funds that has been careless. A number of the Member States have also refused to publish their annual reports concerning EU funds. Why this secrecy?
Commissioner, you have promised today that all reports are to be made available. That is good and it is what we want, but I think it is probably a bit late. We ought to have more time to be able to read through these reports and carry out a thorough analysis. I therefore believe that we should postpone the decision on discharge for the Commission so that we have time to go through all the facts. I think this is a reasonable request, and in view of what my colleagues in my group said earlier, I think that more people would be able to support it.
Lastly, I would like to say something about discharge in respect of the European Development Fund. It is problematic that the European Development Fund remains outside the EU budget. It must be integrated into the normal budgetary control process.
Satu Hassi (Verts/ALE). – (FI) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, surveillance is important. I congratulate the Committee and the rapporteur for having the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), among others, improve its rules on conflicts of interest.
It is only fair, however, that when questions have been answered satisfactorily and any errors have been corrected, a discharge is granted. The European Environmental Agency is in this situation. The alleged conflict of interest regarding the head of the EEA has been investigated, and no conflict of interest has been found.
Criticism with respect to public procurement has been targeted at a green façade. It was a work of art and was acquired in accordance with the rules on works of art. The green façade was a very successful information project for the International Year of Biodiversity. Over half a million people saw it. The cost per 1 000 viewers was 50 cents. The Guardian newspaper selected it as Europe’s third best biodiversity information project, and the Danes said that it was the country’s best tourist attraction. The agency should be congratulated and not reproached for such a successful publicity campaign.
Peter van Dalen (ECR). – (NL) Mr President, the Commission has recently proposed that the 2013 budget be increased by 7%. This is incredible. Government leaders in Greece, France and the Netherlands are having to stand down because they have to cut spending, but the EU budget is allowed to grow by 7%? Incredible.
There is another reason to be critical about the size of the European budget. As regards the discharge for 2010, the rapporteur’s excellent work has made it clear that various agencies are spending their budgets irresponsibly. At the European Environment Agency, in particular, there seem to be many more things that have gone wrong. As long as the accountability of the agencies is not in order, we need to postpone their discharge.
At the same time, I need to point out that accountability for the European Parliament’s budget is also below standard. As long as members of the European Parliament are allowed to spend EUR 4 300 towards general expenses every month without accounting for them, this Parliament should hold back from condemning other European institutions.
Claudio Morganti (EFD). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say a few words on the discharge to be granted to two European bodies: the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee.
Quite apart from some serious errors of management, especially as far as the Economic and Social Committee is concerned, I am puzzled by the very nature of their budgets, which are purely administrative. For both, in fact, we have 70% of expenditure on staff and the remaining 30% on buildings. I wonder what real added value these institutions can give to Europe. I am definitely in favour of a Europe of the regions, but the way the body supposed to represent them here is structured seems to me to make it pretty useless.
Over EUR 200 million is spent on these two institutions each year with no concrete return. In their current form, these two consultative committees, which are effectively powerless, represent what Europe should not be; that is to say, a collection of bureaucratic structures existing solely for their own sake.
Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, it is not primarily our job to give an opinion on whether the money was spent as we would wish or in agencies of which we would approve. It is, of course, to decide whether or not it was spent in accordance with the authority given to the agency in question. Some of these reports contain few, if any, criticisms, and the criticisms are minor. Assuming the rapporteurs were provided with accurate information and that they took account of that information, then Parliament should attest to that.
A good example of this is Ms Macovei’s report on the European Centre for Disease Control. But her report on the budget for the European Environment Agency does provide some evidence for suspicions of overlaps of spending – I will speak cautiously in that way – with NGOs or pressure groups with which staff of the agency had rather too close a relationship.
Her report on the budget for the Food Safety Authority was unexceptionable in itself, but I am concerned about amendments that would seek to water down the recommendations of the original report to prevent conflicts of interest.
Ingeborg Gräßle (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr Wammen, Commissioner, Mr Caldeira, welcome to all of you! We are pleased that, for the first time, you are taking part altogether here in this debate on discharge. This really is like Christmas and Easter all in one day for us. It is something quite special today, and I would like to emphasise that once again.
I would like to take the opportunity to address the President of the European Court of Auditors first. The debate has shown that, with regard to the agencies, we really need your Special Report on cost benchmarking of the European Union agencies. You informed the President of Parliament that, due to staffing problems, you were unable to prepare this report. I would ask you most sincerely to provide us with this report. It is a useful report, which we have been counting on, and are still counting on, to a considerable extent in the Working Group on agencies. I would ask you once again most sincerely to give us this report, in particular, the figures that we know to be very promising. We need these figures. Please give them to us. We also need your opinion on the subject of conflicts of interest in the agencies.
What we are seeing here resembles a civil war in terms of relations within the European Parliament. I would simply like to point out that there is definite justification for criticising the agencies. Three of the 32 agencies have been criticised – that is to say, there are three agencies where we and our rapporteur see problems. I would like to expressly support the rapporteur on one particular point and that is regarding the European Environment Agency. My fellow Members from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament – and Mr Gerbrandy – you are making a mistake here. We have uncovered facts in this regard, and the more time we spend on this, the more questions we are forced to ask. It is simply not acceptable for an agency to give subsidies to a non-governmental organisation, for this non-governmental organisation to arrange seminars in distant parts of the world, and for it to then invite the employees of this agency to these seminars. I do not consider this to be acceptable. If you find that acceptable, then that is even worse! In my opinion, we need to do something about this.
I would also like to address the Council. You spoke of reciprocal screening. However, it is Parliament that grants discharge; you make a recommendation. That is why we also had a nice debate again yesterday as part of the negotiations on the Financial Regulation. We need an interpretation of Article 319 of the Treaty, and of Article 335 – autonomy of the institutions. We have tabled proposals in this regard. However, it would be up to you to make a statement on these.
Georgios Stavrakakis (S&D). – (EL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, firstly, I should like to thank all the rapporteurs for their methodical work and excellent reports. In the present economic and financial crisis, the pressure on government finances has never been greater. Efficient use of public money is more important than ever. At the same time, our role as the European Parliament is to render account to the public and we must confirm that taxpayers’ money is being used correctly, transparently and efficiently.
Given that political cohesion is at the heart of the debate on the error rate and its impact on the EU budget, it is vital that we underline what is an error and what is not: an error is a transaction that is not in keeping overall with current regulations. An error does not mean that resources have been lost or wasted or that fraud has been committed.
With targeted efforts by the Commission and certain Member States, the error rate can be reduced significantly. I am sure that everyone will agree that, during the next cohesion policy programming period, there should be a greater degree of simplification, transparency and responsibility, with controls that marry efficiency with cost, as this will ultimately help us to improve how we protect the financial interests of the European Union.
During last year’s discharge procedure, we tried and, in my opinion, we managed to increase transparency and tighten up the administration of the budget. That, of course, does not mean that everything is perfect and that there is no margin for improvement and that there are no problems whatsoever. However, we are trying to identify and address the problems. In the current major economic and social crisis, the importance of monitoring has become more significant than ever and all of us – the European Parliament, the Commission, the European Court of Auditors and every other body – must be determined to address and resolve the problems in order to achieve even better results.
Michael Theurer (ALDE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, today we are debating the 2010 budget and the European Court of Auditor’s report in this regard.
This report contains both encouraging and less encouraging elements. Firstly, with regard to the funds that are directly controlled as well as managed by the Commission, it can be seen that the error rate is falling. This is the case in agricultural policy in particular, where an encouraging result was achieved with a 2.3% error rate.
On the other hand, in cohesion policy, which has been a problem area for many years, we have an error rate of 7.7% – and two thirds of these errors should have been rectified by the Member States. That should not allow us to cease in our attempts to influence the Member States in this regard to ensure that the error rate is reduced.
At this point, I would like first of all – on behalf of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, but also as committee chair – to thank Commissioner Šemeta as well as the President of the European Court of Auditors most sincerely for their excellent cooperation. I expressly agree with those Members who welcome the fact that the Council is also here today, represented by Mr Wammen from the Danish Presidency. The cooperation with the Commission and the European Court of Auditors is exemplary. The cooperation with the Council, Mr Wammen, is in need of improvement – and it is on the part of the Council that this improvement is required. I would like to ask and encourage you to pass that message on to the other members of the Council, too.
As Parliament, we expect an improvement in use of funds for which we have shared responsibility, and for the Council now to accommodate Parliament here in the trialogue so that in future, we can reduce the error rate. After all, we must also finally make some progress on the discharge of the Council. It is not acceptable for there to be public expenditure that is not subject to any democratic scrutiny. ‘No taxation without representation’ was the battle cry of the American Revolution. Democracy requires there to be no public expenditure without democratic scrutiny. You mentioned the principle of reciprocity, but that is clearly not appropriate in terms of the relationship between the Council and Parliament, as the Treaty of Lisbon clearly stipulates that the Council recommends, but Parliament decides. That is not reciprocity; it is not symmetry, but asymmetry. Here it is important for Parliament, as the directly elected body of the citizens, to have its rights upheld.
Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR). – (PL) Mr President, I support the idea of a special budgetary control commissioner. I would not support this idea were it not for the fact that we have to create an additional commissioner post, as we will soon have a new Member State, namely Croatia. If we have to have this post, then let us create it for this area, as the citizens of European Union Member States pay a lot of attention to the money spent by the European Union, its agencies and its Member States. This is the first point.
The second point is that we may have different opinions: some of us want an increase in the budget and the budgets of the agencies, while others are against. Yet everybody agrees that conflicts of interest are absolutely unacceptable and these issues have to be clarified once and for all and put to rest so that everything is transparent and crystal clear. Otherwise, the authority of European Union institutions will decline, as too will the authority of our Parliament, which will be unable to respond to this problem decisively.
Nicole Sinclaire (NI). – Mr President, I have lost count. Is this the 17th year in which the auditors have failed to give a positive declaration on the EU’s budget or, in other words, have we now reached 17 years in which taxpayers’ money has not been properly accounted for? I note the statement in the resolution on the discharge of the Commission budget that progress has been made since the resignation of the Santer Commission, but I have to ask: ‘Really?’
In 2008, Commissioner Mandelson was accused of a conflict of interest after holidaying with a Russian oligarch whose company subsequently benefited from his department’s decisions. In June 2011, Commission President Barroso ran up a EUR 25 000 hotel bill for a four-night luxury stay in New York. Then there was the Commission memo issued by DG Trade in 2009 which encouraged officials to conceal information from public scrutiny. The EU and its institutions have failed to practise what they preach and what places them above the citizens they purport to represent. It is time the UK left this mess.
Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė (PPE). – Mr President, I would like to touch on a question regarding the report on the European Institute for Gender Equality.
Paragraph 3 proposes the merger of the European Institute for Gender Equality and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Gender equality is a founding value of the European Union and has implications broader than simply those of human rights. I have to say that these two bodies have completely different objectives. The Institute for Gender Equality was planned over more than 10 years. The initiative for it came from this Parliament, and after long preparations, it started work in 2010. I have not heard anything to suggest that its work has been inefficient. The main argument is that of saving resources.
In this House, we often speak about greater integration in the European Union, in order to bring it closer to our citizens. Agencies, institutes, other EU bodies and the Member States all help us to deliver the message of the European Union. To have more Europe in every Member State is our goal. These bodies contribute a great deal to both EU and national policies. If we are concerned with saving resources, we need to talk about reform in a broader sense, systematically, and not only merely in terms of merging some of the EU institutions or agencies.
When we talk about savings, we can talk about Strasbourg and about other things, but money is not always what is at issue. There are certain things that we deliver to our citizens, and I think that having this kind of agency in Member States is crucial. I call on you to vote today not to merge these institutions.
Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D). – (RO) Mr President, when we talk about the discharge procedure, we are automatically talking about the use of European money and about us having to pay much closer attention to the way in which European money is used. I was the rapporteur for the report on protecting the European Union’s financial interests, and I agree that European money must be used with the utmost care, particularly at a time of crisis, but even during times of economic growth.
However, there is a yawning chasm between this situation and turning the budget discharge procedure into a stage for the rapporteur to parade on and engage in self-promotion. I would say that there is a disproportionate political reaction between what is going on in the European agencies and what the rapporteur would like the actual situation to be.
I believe that the rapporteur, Monica Macovei, is only after self-promotion because we have both the procedures and tools we need to resolve problems promptly when they occur. I believe that this is an overhyped political reaction, and Ms Macovei is only seeking to raise her own profile.
Bogusław Sonik (PPE). – (PL) Mr President, there are currently 32 European agencies employing 5 500 people, with operating costs of about EUR 700 million. There is no doubt that their activities are, in large part, justified: after all, they carry out work on behalf of European institutions and facilitate the decision-making process, as well as discharging the Union’s obligations, as in the case of Frontex, which protects our borders. Even so, it is necessary to review how they function and, in particular, the rules by which they operate as regards conflicts of interest, since many examples of the latter have come to light in recent years. This issue could undermine the credibility of the assessments, expert opinions and certificates issued by some agencies and, as a result, undermine the authority of the European Commission and the European Parliament.
The financial policies of agencies should also be reviewed. Some of them, such as, for example, the Human Rights Agency in Vienna, are incapable of using their budgets and hastily spend most of their funds in the final month of the year, or else try to carry funds over to the following year. Consideration should be given to the future appointment of a temporary committee in Parliament to review the operations of agencies both from the point of view of the grounds for their existence as a separate entity and as regards their operational rules and, in particular, issues concerning conflicts of interest, impartiality or leaks of confidential information. These are very important issues. There should certainly be a debate about what constitutes a conflict of interest in order both to ensure high standards for agency employees and to ensure procedural transparency. We have to remember that, at a time of economic crisis, when budgetary restraint is expected of Member States, it is particularly important that the European Union should manage its resources carefully and reduce waste or irregularities and even fraud.
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). – (SK) Mr President, I would like to begin by emphasising that EU agencies, including the Agency for Human Rights, are of fundamental importance when it comes to achieving the aims and policies of the EU. Despite the fact that they account for just 1% of the EU budget, they are of unquestionable benefit to Member State citizens.
In connection with the discharge for the Agency for Fundamental Rights, however, I think it is necessary to emphasise that, if the agency is to continue functioning and to develop its activities as effectively as possible, it must adopt a number of measures to help it overcome the main problems relating to budgetary activities, expenditure, project funding and staff recruitment. The claims about alleged harassment of employees are also of great concern, although a case has already been brought in relation to this. It is now therefore necessary for the agency to give an adequate response to these allegations and clarify the handling of informers, because it is not clear that existing regulations on the protection of informers have been applied consistently, and the agency should have informed the European Parliament about this and submitted a written report. Budget planning is another negative aspect. The agency should also make improvements in this regard. The high volume of transferred funds is causing concern and the Court of Auditors has repeatedly drawn attention to this already.
(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))
Paul Rübig (PPE), Blue-card question. – (DE) Thank you, Ms Flašíková. I would be interested to hear about the Human Rights Agency. Could you perhaps explain to us briefly what the most important successes of the Human Rights Agency have been recently?
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D), Blue-card answer. – (SK) Mr Rübig, we will surely get onto this topic when we talk about the work of individual agencies; at this moment, however, we are talking about the discharge for 2010, and I mentioned the Agency for Fundamental Rights mainly in the context of fulfilling the tasks arising from the discharge. I do believe, however, that we will have a more detailed debate in the future concerning the work of individual agencies, and I would like to thank you for this question. I also consider it important to examine this question here in the plenary of the European Parliament in the future.
Anneli Jäätteenmäki, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. – (FI) Mr President, we are now talking about the budget for 2010, its surveillance and the granting of discharge.
The general public has a right to know what their taxes are being spent on. The use of public funds must be transparent and open.
I speak on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I would like to raise one issue in connection with the future. It is important that we know how the external relations budget is being used. The Commission and the Council could consider making it possible, even on a daily and weekly basis, to follow online the movement of development cooperation funds and all money in the external relations budget. That is the modern approach, and a way for people to be able to see what good comes of the use of the taxes that they pay, in the poor regions of Africa, for example.
I would also like to mention a problem, which does not concern the external relations budget, it is true, but is a problem, nevertheless. It is quite incredible how, over the last six years, the Commission has disregarded commonly agreed rules and kept Parliament in the dark about the use of Council funds.
Barbara Matera, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking in my capacity as rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on the 2010 discharge, and I wanted to talk about the European Institute for Gender Equality.
The year 2010 was especially significant for this institute, because it became financially independent. Therefore, two years since achieving financial independence, 92.3% of the posts in terms of the human resources of this institute have been filled, and it is now fully up and running.
The institute plays a central role in identifying measures to resolve the considerable discrimination against women, in particular, by carrying out studies and research, drawing up statistics, and exchanging best practices in equal opportunities within the 27 Member States of Europe. The institute currently plays a fundamental role for the various Member States and the European Commission, which are evaluating the introduction of legislation on increasing the number of women involved in corporate decision making. Its work is therefore crucial.
I am therefore against the request to consider the merger of the institute in Vilnius with the European Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna. These two institutes have totally different roles – as I have said, the institute in Vilnius deals with equal opportunities issues while the agency in Vienna focuses on human rights – so I call on all my fellow Members to support the amendment for the abolition of paragraph 3.
Zofija Mazej Kukovič (PPE). – (SL) Mr President, as I have spent a great deal of my life in business, I would imagine that what we are discussing today is the budget for 2011, not for 2010, because it is difficult to talk about discrepancies and the necessary corrections that need to be made given that so much time has now passed.
Day in, day out, our citizens are listening to alternating stories about growth and savings, and that is why agencies which are extremely important for Member States should also focus on their own consumption, on reducing their own costs, and on making savings.
We certainly have many opportunities here but, at the same time, we need to increase efficiency and responsiveness to our citizens.
Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Mr President, I support the position adopted by the rapporteur, my colleague Monica Macovei, who is definitely one of the most appropriate people to deal with postponing the budget discharge for the European Environment Agency, as well as for the EFSA and EMA. This action must be taken in order to clarify and remedy the problems identified in their financial management.
I am thinking particularly about the presence of conflicts of interest, which is a problem at both EU level and in Member States, including Romania. Decisions made in such situations are against the public interest and result in the inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money. The sum of more than EUR 30 000 granted for a trip which resembles a holiday is one glaring example. Being responsible for budgetary control, Parliament cannot ignore these cases. Otherwise, how can we still ask citizens to have confidence in the EU’s institutions?
End of the catch-the-eye procedure
Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira, President of the Court of Auditors. – (FR) Mr President, I should like to take advantage of the time that remains first of all to thank the MEPs for their kind words of appreciation in relation to the Court of Auditors and its work.
To grant discharge is a privilege of Parliament. Today, we heard calls for better supervision of the work, better feedback, better financial management, further simplification of procedures and improved accountability and transparency mechanisms. I think that we have an opportunity here for all institutions to review their regulatory and implementation frameworks for the next programming period. We must have clearer, simpler rules and pursue objectives which are meaningful in themselves if we want to create added value for the European Union.
The current developments in economic governance in the EU present us with new questions, particularly as regards the accountability mechanism. The European Stability Mechanism is one of these developments. I am happy to be able to tell you that an audit committee of independent auditors has been set up and that it will present its reports to Parliament. I have also heard calls for the Court of Auditors to submit as soon as possible its report on conflicts of interest in the agencies. I had already pointed this out in writing to this institution on several occasions: rest assured that you will have this report. However, please give us the time to prepare it well and to engage in adversary proceedings with the agencies concerned, so that it gives you real added value in your debates on other issues.
Algirdas Šemeta, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank all the Members who participated in this fruitful debate. Your contributions demonstrate the will of the discharge authority to contribute to more effective budget execution, aiming not only to meet policy objectives but also to ensure that financial support reaches those who need it most. This is a question of effectiveness, fairness and justice. Moreover, the European budget is the most concrete expression of the solidarity among European people and, therefore, it deserves the utmost care and commitment on the part of those managing and controlling it.
Improving the EU’s financial governance is a demanding task involving many stakeholders and financial actors. At the forefront are the citizens of Europe and the benefits they derive from EU-financed projects and programmes. Their interests and the protection of EU taxpayers’ money are the main drivers for our ambitions and our efforts to improve the financial management of the EU budget.
Next, we have the financial actors. The Commission is fully committed to endorsing its final responsibility regarding implementation of the budget. But the effective involvement of all financial actors, without exception, and their commitment to value for money and sound financial management are instrumental to further reducing the risk of errors. In this respect, more effort is needed, in particular, on the effectiveness of control and management systems, but also on the transparency and accountability of the European and national authorities in charge of ensuring optimal use of EU money.
That is why the Commission will endeavour to keep this Parliament, as discharge authority, fully informed of the execution of the European budget. It will therefore continue to provide the necessary information in the accounts and via the various reports announced during the hearings of the Commissioners responsible. Moreover, the Member States’ annual summaries, accompanied by an analysis and guidelines, will be transmitted in a user-friendly manner to the Committee on Budgetary Control in accordance with the provisions of Article 319 of the Treaty.
Several concrete questions were raised during this debate, and I would like to reply to them. Ms Ivanova raised the issue of outstanding commitments, and I can only agree that the outstanding commitments need to be substantially reduced. Therefore, the Commission has proposed an appropriate level of payments for the 2013 budget. Then Mr van de Camp raised the issue of external funds in relation to the Schengen Information System (SIS I and SIS II). You will know that many difficulties were encountered in the past in the development of this system. It is now operational and the Commission is carefully monitoring it to ensure it functions in an effective and reliable manner. The Commission is ready to report on it if requested to do so.
With regard to the funds for external borders, the Commission can execute the allocated budget when we receive claims from the Member States. I will pass your concerns on to my fellow Commissioner in charge of this matter.
Several of you, namely Mr Berman, Ms Hohlmeier, Mr Schmidt and Ms Jäätteenmäki, raised the issue of the status of the European Development Fund (EDF). In the financial framework for 2014-2020, the Commission has proposed keeping the same setting, i.e. outside the Union budget, but it has also made a clear commitment to assess all other options for the financial period post-2020.
There were, of course, many points made about the agencies, and I would like to say a few words regarding the Food Safety Authority, in response to Mr Bové. The Commission regrets the appointment of Ms Diána Bánáti as an executive director of the International Life of Science Institute, as that position is clearly incompatible with her role at the EU Food Safety Authority. The Commission will decide with the Council on the next steps to be taken to replace Ms Bánáti.
For the future, I want to inform you that the interinstitutional working group on traditional agencies, in which Parliament is participating, has addressed the need to develop a consistent policy on preventing conflicts of interest for staff, advisers, experts and board members. This work has to be done in the working group and I hope it will produce an appropriate solution.
To conclude, I want to assure you that the Commission will address all other measures and actions included in the discharge resolution to be adopted today. Many of these measures have already been proposed in the review of the Financial Regulation and in the legal bases for the next financial framework.
The Commission will also invite all the other parties actively concerned to join our efforts and to share our objective of further improving the execution of the EU budget.
Nicolai Wammen, President-in-Office of the Council. – (DA) Mr President, Commissioner, honourable Members, here at the end of this debate, I would like to say that it has been stimulating, interesting and important to listen to the many contributions from the Members of this House. I hope that our two institutions can soon enter into a lasting agreement on an updated discharge procedure. It is high time that we found a solution together.
As I mentioned in my introductory speech, as long ago as March 2011, the Council tabled a proposal for a memorandum of understanding for cooperation between Parliament and the Council during the annual discharge procedure. This memorandum contains specific proposals for how we can exchange the necessary information and documents in a way that respects the respective roles of our institutions in the procedure. I would therefore like to make it clear today that the Council’s proposal is not an ultimatum. It is clear that we must get the negotiations under way between our institutions in order to reach an agreement, and I therefore hope that Parliament will soon be able to establish a negotiating delegation so that we can get started on the work. We all need to be aware of our responsibility and play our part in finding a solution. We owe this to European taxpayers in particular, who are entitled to see us work together to find an effective and lasting way to keep our institutions’ expenditure under control.
It is not the time for fighting between institutions; instead, it is time for cooperating and for showing our citizens that we can enter into compromises and deliver results. I therefore hope that very soon, we will be able to sit together around the negotiating table.
Christofer Fjellner, rapporteur. – Mr President, I am sorry that I could not be here for the whole debate. I am very happy that the Danish Presidency is here – they are in other places as well having trialogues – but I have followed the debate extensively.
The problem here is shared management, and shared management is exactly the same as it was when I was a kid and my sister and I had the shared responsibility of cleaning the house. Nobody cleaned the house and then we stood there blaming each other. The problem is not all over the place. It is in Structural Funds and in all Member States. 60% of the errors come from three Member States: 31% from Spain, 18% from Italy and 10% from the UK. 58% of the errors could have been corrected by Member States, according to the Court of Auditors. I think it is high time that the Council debates this amongst themselves; it is your taxpayers, it is your money.
That does not mean that the Commission is without responsibility. They have the responsibility to control and sanction those who do not play by the rules. I ask myself: does the Commission not have the tools to do that? Or do you not use the tools that you have? My response has been that it is a combination. You lack some tools, but you do not use the tools which you have effectively enough. Therefore, we have a responsibility in the upcoming programming period to give you the tools which you need now when we are colegislators. That goes for the Council as well. But we demand of you, as a part of this discharge procedure, to use the tools you have more effectively.
The reason that I decided to propose to grant discharge is because I heard your sincere wish to change the way you work with sanctions, suspensions and interruptions, and that is the reason we give you discharge. If, next year, we do not see any change, then it is a whole new deal. However, I think that we are on the right track and I am happy that you have been listening to the recommendations we have given in our resolution. I think that it is a good basis for improving the situation for next year.
Martin Ehrenhauser, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, the agencies have indeed been a very controversial topic in this debate, and therefore I would like to use my second lot of speaking time to talk about these agencies very briefly.
Ms Haug is right to say that the agencies have been very strongly criticised over the last seven years or more. In my opinion, however, this criticism has been justified. There is duplication of work, there are questionable decisions with regard to locations, there are questions in relation to the legal basis in primary law, there are oversized management boards, and many more issues besides. Thus, there are some very urgent questions that need to be raised here. These are clearly horizontal questions, I realise that.
However, new questions have now arisen with regard to three specific agencies. These relate to conflicts of interest – not just one conflict of interest, but several. There are also unresolved questions relating to tendering procedures, and there are questions concerning the squandering of taxpayers’ money.
Of course, it is up to each individual Member to decide whether or not to grant discharge. However, I would like to remind the House that we recently had some very serious cases of corruption here in this House, and that is precisely why this House has an obligation here – it really has an obligation – to deal adequately with conflicts of interests. I would also like to recall – and I should perhaps direct this comment to Mr Geier – that the decision we are to take today is not whether to refuse discharge.
We are deciding today whether to postpone discharge. In other words, it is a question of whether we have a bit more time, or whether the agency has a bit more time to answer the questions that are still outstanding. For this reason, I very much believe that every Member has an obligation here to allow this extra time, and I would therefore also like to ask for support for Ms Macovei’s proposal. I think she has done an excellent job and, in this regard, I would also like to compliment her on her work.
Jens Geier, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Ehrenhauser, that fits in very nicely inasmuch as I can answer your question straight away.
It is quite clear to me that, at this juncture, it is not a question of refusing discharge. However, if the rapporteur for the discharge in respect of the agencies raises accusations against the agencies, some of which lie outside the responsibility of these institutions, because the staffing of certain bodies, which you rightly described as excessive, is the responsibility of the Member States, then in October, the only option will be to refuse discharge, because this situation will not have changed, because the Member States will not have altered their behaviour with regard to the agencies. Therefore, the political instrument is not the appropriate one.
The Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament really is now the last not to take the conflicts of interest seriously. The case just mentioned by Commissioner Šemeta is one that once again throws some pertinent light on the situation. However, the problem will not be resolved by postponing discharge. In committee, I have repeatedly argued that, to resolve the issue, we must wait for the report from the European Court of Auditors, which President Caldeira has, thankfully, informed us about, in order to reach conclusions based on a more thorough knowledge of the facts, which we can then also discuss in a serious debate.
I am on the point of making accusations about certain situations, such as the issue that you also mentioned concerning the choice of seats of the agencies. In a press statement, I myself have criticised the fact that the UK Government is forcing one agency to establish its offices in Canary Wharf. That is the most expensive property market that the European Union has to offer. This is the same government that is proposing that the EU make savings. It really must start with its own decisions.
Thus, with regard to the question of whether the criticism is justified, there is far less disagreement than there perhaps appears to be. The arguments relate to the question of what the political response to this should be.
Monica Luisa Macovei, rapporteur. – Mr President, I will try to answer and to sum up the debate. I would like to start by saying that the work has changed and we must follow these changes. Transparency and proper management of conflicts of interest has become vital for both governments and our citizens.
Secondly, conflicts of interest – I repeat what I said this morning – must be a criterion in the discharge procedure for all the EU institutions. I repeat that in particular for our Socialist colleagues. The discharge procedure is the place to evaluate conflicts of interest because, if they are not correctly managed, conflicts of interest can distort the allocation of public resources and human resources policies, and can lead to public funds being wasted. So, yes, this is the place to discuss it.
Once again, we took this opportunity to call on the Council, the Commission and the Member States to revise the way they appoint members of the management boards of the agencies, as well as the directors. I am glad to hear from Commissioner Šemeta today that this will be taken into account and the policy revised. This will only help the agencies. I believe that the postponement will also help the agencies to finish the clearing, or at least to have in place, in an irreversible way, a structured policy against conflicts of interest.
I will not respond to the personal criticism from the Socialists. I would just like to say that I have not heard any concrete argument as to why discharge for the three agencies should not be postponed. Once again, this is nothing to do with the work of the agencies. This is not going against the agencies. Rather, it is to help the agencies, and also to increase people’s trust in the work of the agencies and of Parliament, to see that we take it seriously when we carry out the discharge. We do not put stamps on some other reports.
Finally, I am grateful to all of you for this debate and for the discussion we have had, including those who criticised my proposals. I am very glad that the conflict of interest issue was the subject of such a large debate. I am sure that this will continue.
President. – The joint debate is closed.
The vote will take place today at 11.30.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. – (LT) I would like to encourage my colleagues to vote in favour of the report adopted by the Committee on Budgetary Control concerning discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) for 2010. I would also like to urge my colleagues to support the amendment tabled by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in which we proposed deleting from the resolution attached to Parliament’s decision the proposal to consider in future merging the European Institute for Gender Equality and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Having assessed the importance of this institute for promoting the implementation of gender mainstreaming in the policies of the European Union and its Member States, as well as its efforts to ensure gender equality in Member State labour markets and raise awareness of this issue among citizens, we cannot vote for the abolition of this institute in the future. Gender equality is one of the fundamental values of the European Union, reaffirmed in the Europe 2020 strategy and all of its implementing instruments. Progressive thinking should not even allow us to consider such a possibility. Compared to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, EIGE’s mandate is unique because it concerns the control of de facto equality between women and men, meaning practical equality between women and men in all areas of life, established in EU policies. On the other hand, the mandate of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights concerns legal equality.
Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D), in writing. – (CS) I would like, as the rapporteur for the Committee on Budgetary Control, to stress the importance of Report No 7/2011 of the European Court of Auditors, entitled ‘Is agri-environment support well designed and managed?’, and our recommendations (items 74-83) contained in the report. Agri-environment measures are an important EU policy, and the EU funds allocated for these payments in 2007-2013 amount to EUR 22.2 billion. Agri-environment payments have been part of the EU's rural development policy since 2000, and the Commission shares management of them with the Member States. The Commission evaluates and approves rural development programmes which the Member States draw up and submit. The aim of the payments is to motivate farmers to use methods compatible with protecting and improving the environment.
According to the Court of Auditors, the agri-environment policy was not set up in such a way as to bring specific benefits to the environment. The aims of agri-environment payments are not sufficiently specific for it to be possible to assess their achievement, the stated environmental problems do not represent a clear justification for the provision of agri-environment payments, and it is not easy to monitor fulfilment of the policy. It follows from this that Member States should establish clearly targeted rural development programmes, and that the Commission should assess the programmes more rigorously prior to approval. In this context, it is essential to focus the agri-environment regimes on more specific priorities in the next programming period. Agri-environment payments can achieve the desired effects in the areas of biodiversity, the preservation and development of agricultural and forestry systems with natural value, water protection and the fight against climate change.
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D), in writing. – (PL) Implementing the 2010 budget was a challenge, as it was the first full year of operation of our new Statute for Members and Statute for Assistants, in addition to the changes to the implementing rules for both statutes, which proved a significant additional burden for Parliament’s administrative services. Nevertheless, the EP budget was implemented in accordance with the principles of good financial management, which was confirmed by the European Court of Auditors. The Court found no serious breaches when assessing the compliance of the system of controls and supervision with the Financial Regulation.
In this context, I very much welcomed the opening in 2011 of the Visitor Centre, which has already been visited by over 100 000 citizens. At the same time, I would like to suggest that a study be carried out after it has been in operation for 12 months to gauge public reaction and also to assess the costs and benefits of the centre and to consider the profitability of this investment. I do not, however, agree with the criticism levelled at EuroparlTV, which I personally consider to be a successful project, although it is still too early to evaluate it as it is still in its pilot phase.
As regards the discharge for 2010, I am very concerned by Parliament’s expenditure on its seat in Strasbourg, which amounted to EUR 51 500 000 in 2010, as well as the costs already incurred for the KAD building in Luxembourg and those forecast over the next 20 years, which exceed EUR 800 000.
Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE), in writing. – (RO) The first surprise that strikes me, even after just a cursory read of today’s agenda, is the ridiculously large number of European agencies there are. Parliament is dealing today with 43 discharge reports relating to as many European institutions.
At this time when it is vital to use public money prudently, Parliament should scrutinise rigorously the benefit of, and need for, these agencies. For instance, I welcome the idea of merging CEPOL and EUROPOL. I believe that other similar solutions could also be found.
This analysis is especially necessary in light of the extremely serious suspicions concerning the way in which public money is spent in these agencies and the potential conflicts of interest. I am going to vote to postpone discharge for certain agencies. This action does not resolve the problems mentioned. However, I believe that it can provide a starting point for a meticulous examination of the way in which this excessive number of agencies at EU level operate, and of their costs and benefit.
Algirdas Saudargas (PPE), in writing. – (LT) I would like to express my opposition to the proposal to merge the European Institute for Gender Equality and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, included in the discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget for 2010. Such a proposal is based on saving money and the desire to avoid the duplication of activities. I would like to draw my colleagues’ attention to the fact that the two institutions have different objectives. This institute was established because certain tasks related to gender equality were not dealt with by existing institutions. The tasks of the European Institute for Gender Equality are unique, including the areas of coordination, centralisation and dissemination of research data and information, network building, increasing the visibility of equality between men and women, etc. The institute was only established in 2007 and the recruitment of staff was only recently completed. The institute can finally carry out its functions effectively and I therefore believe that it is irrational and unreasonable to transform it.
(The sitting was suspended at 11.10 and resumed at 11.30)