MEPs slam budgets of Council and EU police agency
21.04.10 @ 18:11
BRUSSELS - The Council of Ministers, the EU institution representing member states, and the European Police College attracted sharp criticism from MEPs debating the EU's 2008 budget in Strasbourg on Wednesday (21 April).
The debate centered round a number of budgetary reports presented by members of parliament's budgetary control committee, with Green MEP Bart Staes accusing the chamber's centre-right grouping of obstructing his analysis of parliament's own expenditure.
Under the EU treaties, parliament is charged with signing off on EU budgetary expenditure, a process known as the budgetary discharge. With MEPs set to vote on the subject early next month (5-6 May), the author of the report on the council suggested MEPs postpone their vote on that institution until October.
"The Council leaves a lot to be desired when we talk about budgetary matters," said Conservative MEP Ryszard Czarnecki. "Certain aspects of the common foreign and security policy are still not clear, the budgetary measures and accounts are still not clear."
Irregularities in the council procurement procedure were also unsatisfactory, said the Polish politician, as was the fact that some of the documents handed to the parliament related to 2007 and not 2008. Council's budget in 2008 was €743 million.
As the debate started up, general disapproval was expressed around the almost empty chamber that no representative from the Council appeared to be present. However, the Spanish secretary of state for the EU, Diego Lopez Garrido showed up half an hour late. "You see how good this fantastic power is," said parliament's president Jerzy Buzek jokingly, referring to the EU's new Lisbon Treaty.
The EU's many decentralised agencies were generally commended for their good work by parliament's rapporteur, centre-right MEP Véronique Mathieu, but she was highly critical of the European Police College (CEPOL).
The UK-based college brings together senior police officers across Europe with the aim of encouraging cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime. Its budget in 2008 was €8.7 million.
"The audit carried out shows there are irregularities, blatant ones, in terms of administration and finance, and that's why we would like to defer discharge," said Ms Mathieu.
The EU's anti-fraud body, OLAF, is currently investigating allegations that CEPOL employees used work mobile phones, transport options and furniture for private use.
The French MEP outlined how EU agencies have grown rapidly over the past decade due to the need for greater expertise in the face of new challenges and an enlarged EU.
Over the decade from 2000 to 2010, agency budgets have risen from €95 million to €569 million, while staff numbers have climbed from 1,219 to 4,794.
In a statement CEPOL said: "The problems experienced by the agency will be fully addressed and resolved so that CEPOL can concentrate on fulfilling its important operational mission." It also stressed that the 2008 management team has since been replaced.
Green MEP Bart Staes suggested to MEPs that they approve their own €1.4 billion expenditure for 2008, but said a number of problems remained, not least the issue of self-verification.
While improvements had been made in cutting the parliament's costs, Mr Staes said the legislature's secretary-general should seek a second opinion before giving his backing of parliament's expenditure.
The Belgian deputy indicated improvements needed to be made in the field of public procurements, adding that taxpayers should not be made to bail out the legislature's private pension fund which currently has a deficit of €120 million.
"My report is intended to make sure that when we go back to the polls in 2013, we have got rid of all the scandals, large and small, and we area not harassed by that kind of unsavory reporting in the press," he told the rows of empty seats.
Flight disruptions caused by ash spewing from one of Iceland's volcanos has prevented many deputies from making this week's plenary session, although MEPs are not famed for their great attendance record.
Mr Staes also accused certain elements of the parliament of obstructing his work. "I tried to co-operate with shadow rapporteurs ... but there were about 50 amendments from the [centre-right] European Peoples' Party to delete large parts of my report."
The large bulk of the EU budget, €129 billion in 2008, is administered by the European Commission, although most of this money is then spent by the member states, for example in helping to boost the economies of poorer regions, known as cohesion funding.
The report of centre-left MEP Bogusław Liberadzki draws attention to this area saying the committee: "Is concerned that errors in the area of cohesion funding indicate that at least 11 percent of the total amount reimbursed should not have been paid out."
The mis-spending in this area ranged from cases of fraud to officials simply ticking the wrong box, with the need to for greater member state co-operation stressed by centre-left MEP Jens Geier, standing in for Mr Liberadzki who was trapped in Poland.
Parliament's budgetary control committee played a role in toppling the former commission of Jacques Santer in 1999, but MEPs are likely to approve the executive's 2008 budget when they meet next month.