10th May 2021

EU spending still open to fraud, ex-top official says

The EU's €120 billion or so a year budget continues to suffer from "weak accounting controls" that leave it "vulnerable to error and fraud," the European Commission's former chief accountant, Marta Andreasen has told EUobserver in an interview.

Her comments come after the UK's House of Lords published the conclusions of a year-long study into Brussels spending on Monday (13 November), saying the EU Court of Auditors has applied unrealistic criteria in giving a negative verdict on the commission's accounts 12 years in a row.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But the Court of Auditors' main concerns - that there is not enough transparency on the portion of the EU budget spent by EU member states - tell just part of the story, Ms Andreasen argues, with the detailed figures of the court's findings unmasking wider problems.

"When you look at the [commission's] restatement of the accounts for 2004 there is much room for serious concern," she explained, stating that Brussels has now recorded over €20 billion of so-called "pre-financing" for 2004 that had not appeared on the books before.

"These changes of more than €20 billion that have surfaced in some chapters would certainly cause heads to roll and the prosecution of the directors if they happened in the private sector," Ms Andreasen, who worked in the private sector for more than 20 years before coming to the commission in 2002, said.

"The European Commission [typically] blames member states but the responsibility for the control of funds, the authority to require supporting documentation and eventually suspend payment lies with the commission," she explained.

"The problem lies with a culture, characterized, among other things, by a persistent state of denial on the depth of the problem [by senior Brussels officials]. As in any situation in life unless you recognise the problem in its right dimension it will not be possible to find the adequate solution," the accountant added.

Ms Andreasen gave a withering assessment of the 25 strong-college of European commissioners, who go into Brussels for five years with good intentions but end up "more worried about their own political career than battling vested interests" in the EU executive.

In October, industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen was dragged through the mud over relations with his colleague, Petra Erler, after he complained that "too much is decided by [EU] civil servants" on spending in a non-accountable way, she pointed out.

Ms Andreasen also criticised the European Parliament for signing off EU accounts despite the Court of Auditors' negative reports and predicted that the likely new parliament president, German conservative MEP Hans-Gert Poettering, will toe the old line.

Andreasen hearing to reopen old wounds

The Argentine born woman - a 51-year old mother of two who now lives in Spain - was hired to run commission accounts in 2002 but suspended five months later after going public with worries that the EU's accounting system is open to fraud.

The commission, which eventually sacked her in 2004, says she broke confidentiality rules. But Ms Andreasen denies having said anything more than what can already be deduced from the public Court of Auditors' reports.

She is currently fighting to get her old job back via the EU civil service tribunal in Luxembourg, with a hearing tabled for 23 November, arguing that her dismissal is void as she was judged by EU officials of a lower professional grade than stipulated by staff regulations for such a case.

Ms Andreasen's story also gives an insight into personal pressure faced by malcontents in the EU administration. "They put pressure on me to sign off accounts and payments the legality of which I could not be assured of. I was literally threatened that I would lose my job if I did not obey," she stated, looking back to events in 2002.

"This time was difficult for me," she added on her two-year long suspension pending her 2004 dismissal. "I never knew how or when they would deal with my case. In the meantime, my professional life was stopped and I haven't been able to get a job since."

Commission has 'ways of breaking people'

Commenting on Ms Andreasen's case in an internal email in 2004, commission official Jules Muis called the affair "her personal and professional graveyard" while remarking that he himself had once been told by a colleague "we have ways of breaking people like you."

"It has not broken me," Ms Andreasen, who currently occasionally lectures on EU financial reform in Europe and the US, told EUobserver. "I never regret what I did. I wouldn't have done anything differently," she stated.

"Reinstating me might give a message to the public that the commission is serious about [financial] reforms."

MEPs to declare EU an LGBTI 'freedom zone'

The symbolic move is an attempt to buttress against right-wing governments' increased scapegoating of LGBTI people, particularly in Poland and Hungary.


Relief in EPP group, as Orbán's party finally leaves

The debate over Fidesz had become an unbearable political burden on EPP - but it also represented a core dilemma for many centre-right, mainstream parties struggling to deal with their populist challengers.

EPP group moves forward to suspend Orban's Fidesz

MEPs are scheduled to vote on Wednesday to change the rules of procedure of the centre-right European People's Party parliamentary group to allow the suspension of a member party.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Czech minister plotted to bury evidence on Russian attack
  2. Putin promotes Russia's 'Kalashnikov-like' vaccine
  3. Coronavirus: Indian variant clusters found across England
  4. UN report encourages EU methane cuts
  5. EU court upholds ban on bee-harming pesticides
  6. Israeli tourists welcomed back by EU
  7. EU duped into funding terrorist group, Israel says
  8. Brussels prepares portfolio of potential Covid-19 treatments

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU ambassadors flock to Red Square for Putin's parade
  2. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  3. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  4. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit
  5. EU preparing to send soldiers to Mozambique
  6. EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn
  7. EU mulls using new 'peace' fund to help Libyan coast guard
  8. Poland 'breaks EU law' over judges, EU court opinion says

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us