Call to scrap yearly statement on EU budget
By Benjamin Fox
The EU should scrap the annual Declaration of Assurance (DAS) on the EU's accounts prepared by the Court of Auditors, (ECA) says its former president Jan Karlsson.
Karlsson was speaking on Wednesday (30 May) during a public hearing organised by the parliament's budgetary control committee, responsible for overseeing the work of the Luxembourg-based Court of Auditors.
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President of the court between 1999 and 2001, Karlsson claimed that the exercise, which has seen the audits for the last 17 years fail to give the EU's accounts a clean bill of health, is "misunderstood" by the public who "perceived the exercise as an investigation into corruption in the European institutions."
Jules Muis, a former chief internal auditor of the European Commission, agreed the annual exercise should be scrapped in favour of an audit every five years.
"The time has come for parliament to initiate an EU inter-institutional debate to reconsider the rationale of the DAS and at least to take the annual mandatory DAS out of the ECA's mandates; possibly to replace it with a once every five years requirement," he told MEPs.
Muis added that the mandate of the court should be overhauled, calling for it to move from being "an almost exclusive auditing and accounting agency into a broader accountability agency" acting more as an independent accountability body.
The European Commission says that most irregularities in EU spending are committed at national level. Around 80 percent of EU budget spending is distributed by national governments.
Currently only four member states use a "national management declaration" which certifies that the accounts have been accurately verified, with governments blocking attempts to make it mandatory.
Earlier this month MEPs signed off the accounts of the European Commission and most EU agencies for 2010 although it refused to approve accounts prepared by the Council, the member states' secretariat.
MEPs also raised concerns about the accountability of the raft of new financial instruments being formulated by the commission and other institutions in response to the financial crisis, particularly the new EU bail-out fund, the European Stability Mechanism, which comes into force in July.
The current fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, was set up on an inter-governmental basis domiciled in Luxembourg with no parliamentary oversight, and MEPs are keen to ensure that the ESM treaty includes provisions for external audits.
Vitor Caldeira, Court of Auditors' chief, agreed that "adequate management reporting on risks and performance of such financial instruments will be key to maintaining transparency and accountability."
MEPs are also drawing up a report on the future role of the Court and its appointment procedures. Muis and Karlsson argue that ECA members should be selected on professional grounds, abolishing the one-country one-member requirement.
However, reforms to the court's governance structure require the unanimous support of the 27 EU governments.