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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 11:59 GMT
Are the EU's accounts a scandal?
Terry Wynn and Marta Andreasen (composite image)
Terry Wynn and Marta Andreasen
It has become an annual ritual. The European Court of Auditors has again failed most areas of spending in the EU's budget.

Although the problem might appear to be the exclusive preserve of number-crunchers, it has become one of the battlegrounds in the EU debate. The EU's purse in 2007 has stretched to 126.5 billion Euros (88.7 billion) and critics say the system of payments is open to fraud.

Here, two key figures go head-to-head.

As President of the European Parliament's budget committee, Terry Wynn worked on reforming the accounting system before he retired as an MEP for the North West of England in 2006.

Marta Andreasen was sacked as Chief Accounting Officer for the European Commission after she refused to sign off the budget for 2001.


The Court doesn't have the manpower to check everything, it's up to the member states
Terry Wynn

It is like the auditors for the supermarket chain, Tesco, doing the audits and saying, overall, the books are in order but they know there is shoplifting going on somewhere yet cannot say exactly where. That is a job for the shop managers. The Court doesn't have the manpower to check everything. It is up to the member states to ensure the checks are done.

In broad terms, the Court has concluded every year since 1994 that:

  • The accounts are reliable
  • Underlying transactions concerning revenue and commitments and administrative expenditure are legal and regular
  • The level of errors and irregularities concerning payments is too high
  • The first two are the responsibility of the commission, but more than 80% of the third, payments, are done at member state level. The problems concerning the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions are (too) often presented as equal to fraud and corruption. The Court should express itself in a way which is less prone to public misunderstanding and the media should avoid simplifying the message.

    You can never say there won't be fraud, but until the member states adopt the proposals they agreed to in April 2006, which asks them to take more accountability, the Court of Auditors will never give a positive statement of assurance. So far around seven countries of the 27 have signed up to do so.


    The accounting system is vulnerable to fraud and has not been designed to control the payments centrally. There has been a lot of window-dressing but essentially the criticism made by the Court (of Auditors) has not changed.

    This year the court is trying to make clear that the management responsibility for the accounts and the underlying transactions remains with the European Commission because last year the commission tried to place the responsibility for the lack of control on the member countries.

    It is true that most of the time the programmes are implemented in the member countries but the rules for controlling the use of funding need to be set out by the commission.

    The Commission has more than 30,000 employees. What do they do?
    Marta Andreasen

    Obviously the member states are closer to the beneficiaries but the people who have to ask for the documentation are the commission and if they fail to ask, then nobody else will.

    The commission has more than 30,000 employees. What do they do? Eighty per cent of the budget is spent in member countries so what do 30,000 people do in the commission?

    The budget and finance department alone has more than 500 people. Not only does the commission have the responsibility but also the authority and the power because they are the only people who can stop payment if the member countries and the beneficiaries don't comply with the rules.

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