The EU spent €158 billion on vague, open-ended rural projects

Press conference by Jan Kinšt, Member of the European Court of Auditors (on the right) and Mikael Bain, Head of Unite by the ECA. They presented a report entitled, “Have the Members States and the Commission achieved value for money with the measures for diversifying the rural economy?”

Press conference by Jan Kinšt, Member of the European Court of Auditors (on the right) and Mikael Bain, Head of Unite by the ECA. They presented a report entitled, “Have the Members States and the Commission achieved value for money with the measures for diversifying the rural economy?”

The European Union spent €100 billion on rural development projects (RDPs) during the seven year period 2007 – 2013 with “little interest in the results achieved”. This is the main conclusion of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) report, after its members examined a number of rural investment programmes receiving EU finance. The member states which realised those projects spent another €58bn of their own money.

This is not the first time the ECA finds out that EU money is allocated to member states in order to be ‘spent’, without much interest in results. The report published last Friday has found that the current monitoring and evaluation procedures, have “failed to provide the information needed in time to inform decisions on which are the most effective and efficient measures for the preparation of the 2014-2020 rural development policy”.

It must be noted that the Union has allocated to member states almost €100bn for achieving rural development objectives in the 2007-2013 financial period. In regard to this budget period the EU auditors concluded that, “The member states and Commission have not done enough to show that the €100 billion rural development budget is well spent”.

Just spending the money

The auditors identified a large discrepancy between the legality of rural development spending and the checks and controls of the results achieved. Going through the programmes, the auditors didn’t find important legal flaws. When it came to check results though, they understood that procedures were almost non-existent. As if the main purpose of the projects was to spend the money, irrespective of achieving targets. “The Member States and EU Commission have focused too much on spending the rural development budget and not enough on efficiently achieving results”, said Jan Kinšt, the ECA member responsible for the report.

The European Council, made up by the 28 member states, has stressed that every euro of the EU budget must not only be spent correctly but also spent well. However, as the ECA’s audit report found, those same member states showed little interest in the results achieved with their own RDPs. The Commission accepted member states’ proposals for RDPs with “vague, open-ended objectives that were not specific about what the programmes intended to achieve”.

In short, the main purpose of the RDPs was to ‘absorb’ the money allocated to every individual member state. This attitude reveals that the Council of the 28 countries while acting collectively demands that the EU budget money is spent to create value. On the contrary, after the money is allocated to every individual member state, its administration turns a blind eye to results and sticks to the letter of the regulations. All they care for is to ‘absorb’ the EU resources, as it is the standard expression, used by national ‘experts’.

Just absorb the resources

The real target is to absorb as much EU money as possible, irrespective of the economic legitimacy of the projects themselves and the objectives to be achieved. In their report the auditors confirm that the ”weaknesses in monitoring and evaluation by the Member States meant that the information produced was not reliable, consistent and relevant enough to show the results achieved in relation to the objectives set”.

The ECA auditors found that “there is a lack of assurance that the EU’s budget for rural development has been spent well”. The members of the Court didn’t restrict their work only to auditing the accounts. Based on the findings of their work, they made a number of recommendations for the Commission and the member states “to improve their reporting on the results achieved with the EU budget to enhance accountability”.


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