Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), The European Commission “tends to be more optimistic than the auditors” when it comes to reporting on the achievements of the EU budget, according to a new report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
The ECA, the EU’s financial watchdog, points out that the EU’s executive “does not share” the auditors’ conclusions on budgetary management in specific EU spending areas, such as cohesion (the EU’s largest spending policy) and the COVID-19 recovery fund (the EU’s single largest fund), where the auditors “actually find more errors.”
As part of its financial reporting package, the Commission publishes its annual management and performance report (AMPR).
This high-level performance report, which describes EU budget management and the performance of EU programs and policies, is, say the auditors, “crucial” for the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.
Both are supposed to hold the Commission to account for implementing the EU budget through the annual discharge procedure.
The EU budget is a key vehicle for delivering on the EU’s goals, and the EU’s oversight bodies must have reliable information at hand,” said Jorg Kristijan Petrovič, the ECA member in charge of the review.
“Although the Commission’s procedures for its high-level reporting remain good overall, we still see scope for improving the quality of performance data, while its reporting on budgetary performance is frequently more positive than ours.”
The auditors note that over a third of their thematic performance audit reports in 2022 asked the Commission to do better in terms of data collection, monitoring, and performance reporting.
As regards the EU’s 2022 budget spending of €196 billion, in October 2023 the auditors reported many more payment errors than the Commission (4.2 % vs 1.9 %).
The biggest difference was in the area of cohesion spending, which totaled €79 billion or 40 % of the EU budget, where the auditors reported a 6.4 % error rate, while the Commission’s maximum estimate was 2.6 %.
Furthermore, for the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) – the EU’s €723 billion COVID-19 recovery fund – the auditors found issues with a number of milestones and targets which helped to keep the fund in check, while the Commission reported that all had been satisfactorily fulfilled for payments made in 2022.
In addition, last year the auditors found that the Commission overstated the contribution by the common agricultural policy (CAP) to climate spending by €9 billion, which is still relevant for this AMPR, as an updated tracking methodology for the new CAP applies only from 2023.