Commission’s spending totally uncontrolled

François Osete, Lazaros S. Lazarou and Danielle Pottier (from left to right). Press conference by Lazaros S  Lazarou, Member of the European Court of Auditors on "Are tools in place to monitor the effectiveness of European Social Fund (ESF) spending on older workers?". (EC Audiovisual Services, 05/03/2013).

François Osete, Lazaros S. Lazarou and Danielle Pottier (from left to right). Press conference by Lazaros S Lazarou, Member of the European Court of Auditors on “Are tools in place to monitor the effectiveness of European Social Fund (ESF) spending on older workers?”. (EC Audiovisual Services, 05/03/2013).

A few weeks ago the European Court of Auditors established that the money spent on EU projects to enhance energy efficiency (€5 billion since 2000) did not achieve targets. More recently, the CoA also found that “The effectiveness of EU funding for municipal waste management (€10.8bn in the period 2000-2006) infrastructures was limited, due to the poor implementation of supporting measures”.

This week, it was the turn of EU spending in a more socially sensitive area, to be audited; the programmes for older workers. The CoA conclusions are, in this case too, at least very disappointing. At the very beginning, the audit report observes that, “the European Court of Auditors has found that neither the Member States nor the Commission are in a position to establish how many older workers have gained new qualifications, or found or kept a job after having benefited from an action funded by the European Social Fund”. The report also notes that  over the programming period 2007–13 ESF spending will amount to over €75bn, representing around 8% of the total EU budget.

The European Court of Auditors is the EU institution that “renders audit services through which it assesses the collection and spending of EU funds”. The CoA communicates the results of its audits in clear, relevant and objective reports. It also provides its opinion on financial management issues.

No targets achieved

In short, over the past few weeks, not one CoA report has found that the EU taxpayers’ money is well spent or achieved targets. Given that the EU power house behind the drafting and the application of all those programmes is the Commission, one could expect at least an explanation. Instead, the Commission keeps announcing pompously more spending ‘initiatives’, while it lets to be understood that it considers its services as being of the utmost competitiveness. But let’s return to the older workers.

In this case, the CoA selected six programmes to sample test the overall efficiency for the total. They were of a value of €222 million and covered four Member States (Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom).

The Press release of the CoA is very enlightening on the issue of effectiveness. It says: “The Commission is approving programmes without requiring the information to check if they are really working and the Member States are not providing it.”, said Lazaros Lazarou, the ECA member responsible for the report. He then added, “Not having reliable, verifiable and timely performance data and assessments of the different actions makes it impossible for the policy makers to draw conclusions for current and future policymaking.”

In short, it is quite impossible to asses if those programmes helped older workers to have gained new qualifications, or found or kept a job after having benefited from an action funded by the ESF. What is probably even more alarming the CoA member Lazarou observes that “…furthermore, the amounts spent on this kind of action are also unknown”. Given that the language used by the auditors is rather diplomatic, the true facts must be much darker than presented in their reports.

No internal controls

Incidentally, those programmes are very widespread all over the European Union and their cost comes to billions. Finding out that it’s not impossible to assess their effectiveness, nor is it feasible to identify their cost, should at least have sounded the alarms in Brussels. Unfortunately,no alarms were set off, nor any investigations over responsibility seemed to have been conducted.

All those facts give the right to an independent observer to conclude, that the there is nothing like internal control over the functioning of the Commission services. Consequently, one can conclude that the EU’s executive arm is not accountable to anybody, nor is there any kind of mechanism seeking responsibilities for ineffectiveness or possible fraudulent action. If this is the case, something has to be done to change it. Otherwise, the proposals of the British Prime Minister to generously cut down the EU budget, will prove totally right.

How come at a time of severe austerity policies applied by all EU member states, the Commission’s spending should remain untouched? And all that, despite the fact that a large part of this spending is proven to be ill managed, without tangible results.  For God’s sake, it is even impossible, to count the cost of some programmes! What else should the Council expect to be reported in order to try to put some order? Mr Herman Van Rompuy has to act immediately.




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