Official auditors found substantial errors in European Union spending last year, providing new ammunition to those seeking to stop an increase in the bloc’s next long-term budget.
The European Court of Auditors, which is responsible for checking the finances of the EU’s institutions, said on Tuesday it had found irregularities affecting 4% of total spending during 2011, equivalent to about 5.2 billion euros.
“The biggest problems were in outlays on rural development, fisheries and health,” the Luxembourg-based court said in its annual report, which ran to more than 240 pages.
The overwhelming majority of errors arose from misapplication or misunderstanding of the EU’s complex rules, the auditor said, although a handful of cases of suspected fraud were reported to the EU’s anti-fraud office. “With Europe’s public finances under severe pressure, there remains scope to spend EU money more efficiently and in a better-targeted manner,” court President Vitor Caldeira said. “Member states must agree on better rules for how EU money is spent, and member states and the Commission must enforce them properly.”
Politicians in Britain have pointed to evidence of waste and inefficiency in EU spending to push for deep cuts to the bloc’s proposed budget for 2014-2020, which covers a total of 1 trillion euros and is in the process of being negotiated.
“You would think that after 18 years, a more mature EU could have its accounts signed off, but no. The EU has failed again,” said Godfrey Bloom, a member of the European Parliament and spokesman for the eurosceptic British party UKIP.
The court said governments shared the blame with the European Commission, the EU executive, for failing to establish effective systems to detect and correct spending errors.