17th Mar 2018

MEPs want to 'blackmail' commission candidates over EU budget

Budget control committee MEPs want future commissioners to take a tougher line on how member states spend EU funds.

They say they will make this a key part of their assessment of new commissioners, due to start work in autumn.

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German centre-right Markus Pieper, in charge of assessing how the European Commission spent its money in 2012, told this website on Thursday (30 January) that candidates will face a hostile job interview if they don’t make a commitment to cut wasted expenses by a group of eight ‘black sheep’ member states.

“If the commission doesn’t fulfil our conditions, then we need stronger political pressure on the commission,” he said.

The countries in the spotlight are: the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Poland, and Romania.

With the five-year terms of the 28 EU commissioners soon coming to an end, member states are set to select a new team.

But first, each candidate must be cross-examined by MEPs.

Pieper said his candidate ‘black mail’ strategy has already received support among all the shadow rapporteurs.

The circle of MEPs working on the report is set to lobby their colleagues to reject any candidate who does not meet their criteria.

Pieper is unhappy with how the commission attempts to reduce member state error rates on EU-funded projects and programmes and wants the Brussels-executive to directly monitor the way EU funds are being spent.

The error rates have increased for a third year in a row, according to the EU’s budget watchdog, the European Court of Auditors, with some 80 percent committed by the eight member states alone.

Most of those mistakes should have been uncovered by the national authorities, according to the Court.

But Pieper says there is little incentive to improve the rate because it is “EU money.”

If a project is identified as having errors, making it ineligible for EU funding, then the money can be used by the member state for another project.

“Up until now it is possible to replace projects and this is from our point of view, not very efficient,” he said.

Any misspent money should instead trigger an automatic procedure that would deduct a sum from the national coffers, he says.

The commission formulates its risk analysis on error rates by relying, in part, on national audit reports provided by the member states.

“From our point of view, they [the commission] trust them too much, which is one of the reasons for our reservations for the next period,” said Pieper.

Pieper wants the commission to bypass the eight member states’ national auditing authorities altogether and deal directly with those who receive the funds.

If the upcoming commissioner candidates disagree, then they stand to lose the backing of the assembly, he says.

For its part, the commission says it is working on ways to extend its oversight powers.

MEPs are set to give their assessment of how the commission spent the 2012 budget in mid-April.

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