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EU wants members have responsibility for co-managing Community funds

MEPs on the Budgetary Control committee have relaunched the idea of „national declarations”: they are demanding that EU Member States take responsibility for co-managing Community funds, alongside the European Commission.

Another idea from the 2005 discharge exercise is to look at the cost/benefit ratio of Community spending audits, which MEPs would like to see rationalized. MEPs on the Budgetary Control committee have relaunched the idea of „national declarations”: they are demanding that EU Member States take responsibility for co-managing Community funds, alongside the European Commission. Another idea from the 2005 discharge exercise is to look at the cost/benefit ratio of Community spending audits, which MEPs would like to see rationalized. The concept of „national declarations” first arose in the 2003 discharge.

These declarations were intended to provide an assurance from Member States that effective auditing systems for Community spending exist on their territory. MEPs stress that these declarations should be signed by someone with „due authority” at national level. Although EU Treaty Article 274 stipulates that the European Commission is responsible for managing the budget, Community spending co-managed with Member States accounts for almost 80% of the budget. Things are evolving, as the Netherlands has agreed in principle to a national declaration (and other Member States, such as the UK and Sweden, are thinking of doing likewise), even though the plan initially made no headway in the Council.

A step towards a statement of assurance
These national declarations, according to the 2005 Commission discharge report by Salvador Garriga (Spain), may be multiple, so as to reflect the realities of the Member States’ differing political systems. They would also help to „improve the quality of national supervisory and control systems”, and hence the management of the Community budget. The report also observes that the declarations could facilitate a positive ‘statement of assurance’ (DAS)” being obtained from the Court of Auditors.

The Commission is therefore invited to submit to the Council a proposal for a national management declaration covering all Community funds under shared management, based on sub-declarations by the various national bodies responsible for the management of expenditure, with, if possible, the participation of national audit bodies. National statements could clearly make a very useful contribution to the Community’s auditing arrangements: in very large areas of Community budget management, the Court of Auditors has found that the effectiveness of supervisory and control systems should be improved. These deficiencies make it impossible to obtain a positive statement of assurance as to the reliability of the accounts, notes the report.

Seek out errors, but not at any price
MEPs want the issue of the „acceptable rate of error” clarified, after the cost of controls has been assessed. The committee believes it crucial to take account of the cost benefit ratio between the resources dedicated to control activities and the results obtained by the controls. The report notes, moreover, with great concern, the large number of errors picked up by the Court of Auditors in operations at the level of the final beneficiary. The text approved in committee calls on the Commission to further improve its effective supervision of controls delegated to Member States. Should Member States’ control systems still prove insufficient, the Commission should impose clear deadlines and apply sanctions where those deadlines are not met.

Reimburse!
The effective recovery rate can also be improved, says the draft report, but only via the Member States’ enforcement agencies. It could be helped revealing the identities of debtors who have been found guilty by the courts but are unwilling to make payment. Improved recovery would also boost the European institutions’ credibility. Likewise, the Commission should simplify the rules and apply existing legislation on suspension of payments where necessary and act when Member States fail to comply with basic requirements. This idea of publication also appears in the area of transparency.

Whereas the report welcomes the Commission’s transparency initiative, it also calls on the Commission to do everything in its power to persuade member States to grant the public a right of access to information - via a web site - on projects and the beneficiaries of various Community shared-management funds. Lastly, the Commission is invited to publish information on the expert groups upon which it calls in its work, including the names and fields of expertise of the groups’ members. The Committee voted in favor of a proposal to grant a discharge to the Commission for 2005.

Discharge for the agencies
As regards the grant of a discharge to the sixteen executive agencies (rapporteur: Edit Herczog, Hungary), the Budgetary Control Committee approved a series of cross-cutting observations in the resolutions accompanying its decisions, which are positive. MEPs consider that the „ever growing number” of Community agencies and their activities do not seem to fit into an overall framework. Their role, in some cases, does not meet citizens’ expectations. The European Commission is therefore invited to set out general guidelines for the creation of new agencies, whilst avoiding any duplication of activity between the agencies and the institutions. (EP Press)