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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The dirty dozen

Ah, the annual ritual: the Court of Auditors has qualified the EU's accounts for the 12th year in a row.

This year things are a bit more interesting because the Commisson has launched a pre-emptive attack on the court. The Vice-President for administration, audit and anti-fraud, Siim Kallas, dismissed the idea of corruption in Brussels as a myth, arguing, “If you lose your wallet and you get it back with the money inside, the problem is over... This perception of widespread error and fraud is highly unfair. The spending of money in the EU is under tight control.”

Today the Court is hitting back at a cheeky claim by the Commission that the Court had given it a "statement of assurance" - whereas the Court says the whole point is that it is a qualified statement of assurance. Report highlights this year include:

  • The fact that the about 2% of the EU's cows and 6% of sheep seem to have have gone missing. (Info note, page 17)
  • All the stats from Greece turn out to rely on a database which is run by... the Greek Farmers Union. (Main report, page 92). Great system, guys.

But could this article from the BBC be any more one-sided? Its kind of hard to see how. It's fair to look at the Commission claim that it's not their fault. There are three or four people quoted making the Commission's case, but no-one quoted arguing the opposite. That's not good journalism.

To take just one of many possible examples, why not look at the External Aid budget? It's directly run by the Commission, not member states, but its one of the areas most riddled with fraud and irregularities.

Too many people in Brussels - including some Conservative MEPs - just don't seem to accept that its an EU problem, or at least not a big one. According to the BBC "The Commission does not deny that fraud occurs, but it says the scale is minute - around 0.09% of the total budget." But according to a parliamentary answer from early last year the total EU spending not signed off by the Court 1994-2003 was £511 billion. That's no small change.

We know this ritual is boring - but until politicians come under some pressure, this isn't going to be sorted out. Change isn't going to happen if the Commission are allowed to just shift the blame onto the member states.

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