Speech by President Tajani on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the European Court of Auditors
(check against delivery)
Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the European Court of Auditors. These have been 40 years of commitment to the European idea, 40 years of service to our citizens and of service to our values.
Our common values are founded in our commitment to democracy.
Democracy requires us to be accountable towards EU citizens, who remind us every day that we must spend our money wisely and correctly.
It is vital, therefore, that EU expenditure should be subjected to proper, close scrutiny, and it is the European Court of Auditors’ task to guarantee that every last euro spent to fund the Union’s activities is spent as it should be.
This is what our citizens expect of us.
Last week President Lehne presented the annual report of the European Court of Auditors last week in plenary in Strasbourg.
I regard it as a good omen that, on the Court’s 40th anniversary, for the first time ever you should have presented a qualified opinion - and not an adverse opinion - on the 2016 accounts.
This qualified opinion bears witness to a significant improvement in the management of EU finances. That management has in fact been improving steadily for many years now.
This is the Europe that our citizens want, a Europe that uses taxpayers’ money wisely.
I take this qualified opinion to as a sign that the financial management of the EU budget is in good hands and as evidence of our commitment to constructive scrutiny by the European Court of Auditors.
This is very important, because our ultimate objective is not to point fingers, but rather to ensure that spending from the EU budget generates real added value.
We want you to be unwavering in your efforts to uncover irregularities, but we also want you to help the authorities to improve the way they work and keep the public better informed about our objectives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our citizens want a more effective Europe, a Europe which protects them against the instability they see everywhere around them and against the effects of globalisation. They want Europe to take decisive measures against terrorism in all its forms.
Europe needs to come up with answers to our citizens’ concerns. The elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands have shown that people want to give Europe another chance.
They trust that Europe can provide the solutions they are looking for. We must not disappoint them!
Our response must be a Europe that has the means to realise its great ambitions.
For this we need an EU budget commensurate with those ambitions and our political objectives.
I believe that the new budget, post-2020, must be a political budget which breaks with the obsession with redistribution between Member States and is based on a clear strategy and precise objectives.
We must make political choices first, and only then take decisions on the budgetary resources needed, not vice versa.
We need to think in broader terms if we want to fund all our priorities properly.
We need to consider all the options, not just the five or six scenarios for the future of Europe proposed by the Commission.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary solutions.
For the first time in our history, the total budget available under the current Financial Framework is smaller than under the previous one, despite the Union’s constantly expanding competences and responsibilities.
Our citizens want more Europe. But how can we have more Europe with less money?
The budget cuts have hit the ‘future-oriented policies’, like research and development, particularly hard. It is not only spending in more traditional areas such as cohesion and agriculture which has been affected.
It is clear that the appropriations available are not commensurate with the aspirations of our citizens and political priorities of our Union.
What is more, Brexit will lead to a significant loss in revenue at a time when additional needs are emerging.
All of this raises a fundamental question: can we continue with an EU budget equivalent to barely 1% of EU GNI? The answer is no. Our new priorities mean that we need more resources!
The European Parliament has repeatedly emphasised the need to introduce a genuine system of own resources.
That system must be simple, fair and transparent, in keeping with the recommendations made by the High-Level Group on Own Resources.
Mario Monti is right in his assessment.
Brexit is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity.
The end of the UK rebate offers us a historic opportunity to revise and significantly simplify our system. In the coming months, we need to hold in-depth discussions on this matter with all the other institutions and the Member States.
Of course, the European Court of Auditors will also have a say in these discussions. First of all, we need to simplify access to EU funding.
When I visit EU capitals, most of the organisations, NGOs and business representatives that I talk to complain that EU funding procedures are mired in red tape. I understand that the authorities have very good reasons for imposing rules, but we must also respond to the criticisms voiced by the people on the receiving end.
The European Court of Auditors is used to assessing the added value of our investments.
We need to define what constitutes added value.
In my opinion, the key yardstick should be that ordinary people can see that the EU budget is bringing about improvements in their lives, at their workplace, in their region, in their street – in short in their quality of life.
Is this not the sole raison d’être of the European Union? Is this not the sole reason why we are in politics - to make our citizens’ lives better?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 1973, the then chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control, Heinrich Aigner, called for a ‘European audit office’ to be set up to help Parliament carry out its budgetary control responsibilities. In 1977, the Court of Auditors was established and today, in 2017, we are celebrating 40 years of commitment to the European Union.
Drawing on our experience, we are now ready to take our partnership further.
The work of the European Court of Auditors complements that of the European Parliament.
We already work together systematically in the course of the discharge procedure, cooperating closely with Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control, chaired by my colleague Ingeborg Grässle.
I know that under the Presidency of my former colleague and good friend Klaus-Heiner Lehne, and with the support of all its Members, the Court of Auditors is keen to work even more closely with the European Parliament, in particular through its special reports, which are of the utmost interest to Parliament’s committees.
Whether they deal with the EU’s response to the refugee crisis or the EU’s policies on youth unemployment, to name but two topics, the European Parliament and its committees appreciate these special reports.
We see them as a vital contributions to better-informed European democracy, and we want to encourage you to continue assessing the effectiveness of EU policies and to analyse their impact in even greater depth.
Your special reports also help Parliament’s committees to determine whether a specific item of spending is actually producing the hoped-for results on the ground.
The European Court of Auditors can therefore use its special powers of investigation to act as the Union’s ‘eyes and ears on the ground’.
I also applaud the steps taken by the European Court of Auditors last year to overhaul its working methods and gear them more closely to the legislative work of Parliament, the Council and the Commission.
This is a major step forward, as it will enable legislators and the Commission to take full account of the Court’s work in the legislative cycle.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Court of Auditors is celebrating 40 years of service to the European project. To mark that anniversary, I would like to make a wish.
My wish is for a Europe which is closer to its citizens, which is aware and proud of its huge achievements, which has confidence in its abilities and which looks ahead to the future with optimism.
Last March in Rome, as part of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, we made an important commitment. We gave our word that we will stand united in ensuring that Europe delivers on its promise to bring about tangible improvements in the lives of its citizens.
I am confident that we can meet our citizens’ expectations.
By working together, with the European Court of Auditors and with all the other institutions and stakeholders, we can deliver results and live up to the trust that EU citizens place in us.
I would like to conclude by offering a special word of thanks to the Members of the European Court of Auditors, those with us today and all of those who have served the Court in the past.
I would also like to thank all the current and former staff of the European Court of Auditors. It is their commitment that has made the Court what it is today - a fundamental component of the machinery which enables the European Union to perform its tasks in the service of EU citizens.
As Jean Monnet said, people may come and go, but institutions remain. The European Court of Auditors and the European Parliament are separate institutions, but we are very close in one respect, in that we share the goal of defending the interests of EU citizens.
As President of the European Parliament, I shall work to bring about closer cooperation between our two institutions, and I am sure that our joint efforts will bear even greater fruit in the future.
Many thanks for your attention.