From our man in Brussels – The EU Commission braces itself for the annual ritual of feigning concern and surprise today as EU auditors prepare to deliver their annual report.
While the report will, for the twelfth year running, highlight the “irregularities” in EU spending, the Commission is already pointing to improvements.
“We’ve achieved quite a lot in these last few actually,” said an aide to Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson,
“Two years ago we had ‘systemic’ fraud, last year it was ‘rampant’ and now it’s down to ‘widespread’, that’s progress – real, sustained progress.”
Also marking a change from previous years, most problems are expected to be connected with payments made by the EU’s 25 member states in so-called “front line” projects, as opposed to centrally administered funds.
“How’s that for decentralisation?” asked our source.
The auditors are expected to focus their fire the second largest section of the EU budget: funds spent on development of poorer regions. According to the budget allocation, these would all be France.
The European Commissioner for Administration, Audit and Anti-fraud, Siim Kallas, is expected to refute to the report – which will be presented to a European Parliament committee in Strasbourg – by attacking the auditing procedure.
Mr Kallas, who spends most of the year locked in a cupboard, says the Commission clawed back 2.17bn euros (£1.45bn) of fraudulently administered funds from member states last year, writing off only 90m euros (£60m).
“You lost your wallet and you get it back with some money inside, but you still consider it a catastrophe. This is our main debate with the Court of Auditors.”
Mr Kallas says mistakes, like member states defrauding each other of £1.5 billion pounds, will always occur in any large organisation, but that instances of “serious” fraud such as the 2003 case at the statistics agency Eurostat – described by investigators as a “a vast enterprise of looting” – are rare.