Discharge procedure: how Parliament scrutinises the EU budget

MEPs decided to approve the implementation of the EU's 2018 budget by most of the EU institutions and agencies in a procedure known as discharge.

The Parliament is set to debate and vote on the discharge of the 2013 annual budget on the 28 and 29 April plenary.
MEPs scrutinise every year how EU institutions have spent money ©BELGAIMAGE-EASYFOTOSTOCK-Zoonar-P.Gudella

On 13-14 May MEPs, granted discharge of the 2018 annual budget to the European Commission and to most of the other EU institutions and agencies. The discharge procedure is the most important tool for the European Parliament to check how public funds have been spent and EU projects carried out. Parliament has the exclusive right to approve the budget implementation of the EU institutions.

What is the discharge procedure?

The discharge procedure is the Parliament's final approval of how the EU budget for a specific year has been implemented.

The budgetary control committee scrutinises how the Commission and other EU institutions and agencies are implementing the EU budget and prepares the Parliament's discharge decision for each budgetary year .

Parliament considers the reports prepared by the budgetary control committee, taking into account the Council's recommendation and decides to grant, postpone or refuse a discharge.

If granted, the accounts of a given year are closed and approved.

What happens when the Parliament refuses or postpones discharge?

If the accounts of an institution or an agency are not cleared, the organisation involved must act on the recommendations of the Parliament before seeking discharge again.

If the institution or agency does not take measures to improve the situation by autumn, Parliament may decide to refuse the discharge.

Can Parliament’s approval of accounts be taken for granted?

Over the years the Parliament has refused to grant the discharge to various EU agencies and bodies, including to the European Commission twice, in 1984 (for financial year 1982) and in 1998 (for financial year 1996).

When the Parliament refused discharge to the European Commission under Jacques Santer in 1998, it ultimately led to the resignation of the entire Commission the following year.

For 2016 and 2017, the Parliament refused to grant discharge for the Malta-based European Asylum Support Office, leading to changes in the management and organisational structure.

Which institutions need to get approval from the European Parliament?

All EU institutions, including the European Commission, Parliament itself, European Council, Council of the EU and other agencies, bodies and joint undertakings. In total MEPs adopte 52 reports during the plenary.

This year for the tenth consecutive time the Parliament postponed the discharge decision for the Council and the European Council budgets, citing a continued lack of cooperation from the Council in supplying the information the Parliament needs.

For 2018, MEPsalso voted to postpone the discharge for the European Economic and Social Committee, asking the institution to first address shortcomings in its internal operations.

How long does it take for the procedure to be completed?

The procedure that is being finalised now concerns the 2018 budget. In the framework of the budgetary discharge procedure, the budgetary control committee takes a decision based on data provided by the EU Court of Auditors, taking into account the recommendation by the Council and after discussing it with commissioners and other senior EU officials.

To ensure that EU taxpayers’ money is used properly, members of the budgetary control committee go to member states to see how the EU budget is implemented on the ground.

In February 2020, MEPs went on a fact-finding mission to the Czech Republic to follow up on reports of possible irregularities on how the cohesion and agricultural funds are managed.

The Parliament has to adopt its discharge decisions before 15 May each year.