European Court of Auditors – Financial Auditor
The Court of Auditors (ECA) is the fifth institution of the European Union (EU). It was established in 1975 in Luxembourg to audit the accounts of EU institutions. The Court is composed of one member from each EU member state and its current president (as of 2008) is Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira.
- examines the proper use of revenue and expenditure of the EU institutions
- based in Luxembourg
Declaration of Assurance
Since 1994 the Court has been required to provide a “Declaration of Assurance”, essentially a certificate that an entire annual budget can be accounted for. This has proved to be a problem, as even relatively minor omissions require the Court to refuse a declaration of assurance for the entire budget, even if almost all of the budget is considered reliable.
This has led to media reports of the EU accounts being “riddled with fraud”, where issues are based on errors in paperwork even though the underlying spending was legal. The auditing system itself has drawn criticism from this perception. The Commission in particular have stated that the bar is too high, and that only 0.09% of the budget is subject to fraud. The Commission has elsewhere stated that it is important to distinguish between fraud and other irregularities. The controversial dismissal in 2003 of Marta Andreasen for her criticism of procedures in 2002 has called into doubt the integrity of the institutions.
It is frequently claimed that annual accounts have not been certified by the external auditor since 1994. In its annual report on the implementation of the 2009 EU Budget, the Court of Auditors found that the two biggest areas of the EU budget, agriculture and regional spending, have not been signed off on and remain “materially affected by error.”
Terry Wynn MEP who served on the Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control, reaching the position of chairman, has also backed these calls stating that it is impossible for the Commission to achieve these standards. In a report entitled ‘EU Budget – Public Perception & Fact – how much does it cost, where does the money go and why is it criticised so much?’, Wynn cites consensus that practice in the EU differs from that in the US. In the US, the focus is on the financial information, not on the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions, ‘So, other than in Europe, the political reaction in the US to the failure to obtain a clean audit opinion is only “a big yawn”‘.
By comparison, the Auditor General for the United Kingdom stated that there were 500 separate accounts for the UK and “in the last year, I qualified 13 of the 500. If I had to operate the EU system, then, because I qualify 13 accounts, I might have to qualify the whole British central government expenditure”. Despite the problems, the Barroso Commission has stated that it aims to bring the budget within the Court’s limits by the end of its mandate in 2009.
The ECA made clear in their 2010 year report, “Responsibility for the legality and regularity of spending on Cohesion Policies starts in the Member States, but the Commission bears the ultimate responsibility for the correct implementation of the budget.” And in previous reports, the ECA has noted, “Regardless of the method of implementation applied, the Commission bears the ultimate responsibility for the legality and regularity of the transactions underlying the accounts of the European Communities (Article 274 of the Treaty)