The elections to European Parliament (EP) have recently passed. During the period before the elections every citizen of Europe had a chance to get a profound information about European Parliament, how it works, what achievement has been made and what goals are still ahead. So today we present a little bit information about another essential European Institution – European Court of Auditors (ECA). As EU’s independent external auditor, ECA looks after the interests of EU taxpayers. It does not have legal powers, but works to improve the European Commission’s management of the EU budget and reports on EU finances. ECA was established in 1977 and it consists of 1 member from each European country.
Below are the insights of ECA‘s president Klaus-Heiner Lehne about ECA‘s activities and situation in European Institutions:
- Politician‘ reactions towards ECA‘s work. Communication with the EP is quite easy. When you arrive in Brussels or Strasbourg you can visit any committee‘s meeting, meet with their chairmen or members. This ensures a smooth flow of information by instantly receiving reflections and reactions. Communicating with the EU Council is much more difficult. For example, if an auditor attends a meeting of the Committee on Economic and Financial Affairs, it will give from 5 to 10 minutes to the auditor. And after a brief discussion, which lasts for a maximum of 20 minutes, the issue is closed. It is almost impossible to talk about the strategy and its grounding in such a short time.
- You can‘t make promises on what you can‘t make the reality. The EU budget makes up to no more than 1% of Member States’ national income. Only 6 percent the entire EU budget is spent on maintaining the Community institutions. This means that the majority of the rest finances fall into the hands of national, regional or local governments and are distributed there. 145-150 billion EUR is a decent amount per year, but for populations with 508 million habitants this is certainly not much. For this reason, it is wrong to promise that this money will change the world and so on. This is not true in reality, especially when it comes to macroeconomics. It cannot be developed solely from the EU budget. The Community budget can provide little incentive to go to the right direction and to support initiatives. However, it should be remembered that most of the EU budget is spent by the national authorities. Therefore, they have to be very careful when promising to solve certain problems with EU funds.
- Climate change and the environment. One of the ECA‘s priorities – climate change and environment. ECA needs to answer the questions about whether Europe take care of the future of the Earth in an efficient and sustainable way. Does Europe achieve the goals it has set? If there is a gap between our promises and reality, ECA needs to come up with concrete suggestions on how to reduce it and ultimately eliminate it. ECA‘s report on air pollution was one of its most successful works.
- Level of irregularities in EU spending in 2017 continued to decline. However, there is one general rule for EU regulations: the more complex the legislative framework underlying the operations, the more errors. It is very simple – the more complicated the rules are, as is often the case in the public procurement system, (when even townships have to have a group of lawyers to understand and apply), the likelihood of mistake increases dramatically. Conversely, if the rules are simple and clear, it is harder to dress up.
- Suggestions to decrease the EU administration. The entire EU administration is as large as the German administration of Munich. It should therefore be seen as very small and highly efficient. We spend just 6 percent of total EU budget on it (including the maintenance of buildings). It is very difficult to find another administration of a similar nature.
- More attention to assessing the effectiveness of EU action. The main product ECA creates is annual reports. Auditors assess whether EU funds are properly accounted for, allocated and used in accordance with appropriate rules and regulations. At the moment, ECA focuses on evaluating the activities of EU institutions. This brings added value to key decision-makers – the EP, the EU Council and the European Commission – as they receive better information. It is one to mathematically calculate or legally justify why one or another program has not been fully developed, and anything else – to talk about their effectiveness: whether they reach the target audience, whether the goals are appropriate. This is much more than the help EU institutions are used to receive. On the other hand, this change in ECA‘s activities makes auditors consider the risk of entering the political sphere. Traditionally, it is not an audit, ECA is not an institution that takes political decisions, but auditors must not forget that their recommendations can have political consequences.
- What is the difference between work in the EP and in the ECA? How does the attitude of parliamentarians towards ECA‘s activities change? For an ordinary EP‘s member, the work ends with a vote on the legislative act. If it is accepted, it can be forgotten. The experience the president of ECA has gained from working in ECA shows that we can have poor legislation, but if it is implemented properly, it brings good harvest. But if the law is good but improperly implemented, it is not effective anymore. What happens after the act is adopted should become an important part of EP members‘ activities. That is exactly what the EP‘s members are looking for. The EP in the last parliamentary term has paid more attention to how the legislation is being implemented and has started to monitor how it is applied by a Member State or the EC.
To sum up, the public should be more interested in auditors’ work. Thus, citizens would be more confident that their money would be spent properly. The path of the EU regulations does not end with a positive vote in the European Parliament.