Another 3.1% increase in EU budget

MID September in the European Parliament is budget crunch time as this month holds the deadline for MEPs to submit amendments to the EU's draft budget for 2009.

Robert Sturdy MEP

MID September in the European Parliament is budget crunch time as this month holds the deadline for MEPs to submit amendments to the EU's draft budget for 2009.

The annual spending plans are negotiated between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on the basis of a proposal by the Commission. The Commission then implements the budget on its own responsibility, but shares most of the management with the Member States.

During the summer months, while the European Parliament is officially in recess, the draft budget is finalised and awaits our scrutiny when Parliament reconvenes at the end of August. The budget covers the spending of all the Union's institutions, fixes income and expenditure for the year, lists all the activities that are to be funded and sets out the total amounts of money and staff available for each.

We vote on the draft budget on the basis of the Council's draft and the amendments which MEPs table (this can run into thousands!). Our modified budget then returns to the Council which then decides whether to accept the Parliament's proposed amendments. The draft budget as amended is then returned to the Parliament for a second time towards the end of November.

The EU budget for next year, according to official figures from the European Commission's budget website will be €134bn; a figure which is a 3.1% increase from 2008. However, one must wonder why this figure is able to increase year after year, when the EU budget has yet to be approved by the European Court of Auditors for over 13 years!

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According to the Treaty, the European Court of Auditors is required to examine all Community revenue and expenditure and to publish its opinion annually (around the beginning of November). This Statement of Assurance which the Court issues is generally known by its French acronym DAS (Déclaration d'Assurance), and is the Court's formal opinion and reflects its view on the reliability of the EU's accounts and on the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions. In other words, this provides an audit opinion on whether EU money has been properly spent in accordance with Community law and properly recorded.

However, for the past 13 years in a row, the European Court of Auditors has not given a positive Statement of Assurance regarding the accounts, and this year is not expected to be any different. On the September 8, the EU's Administration, Audit and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas spoke to MEPs in the Budgetary Control Committee, one of two committees in the European Parliament which deals primarily with the budget, and surprised several MEPs by announcing that he did not expect that there would be an unqualified DAS statement of assurance for 2007.

It appears that the Commission has given up on the idea of requiring Member States to publish national declarations to detail the controls in place at national level, instead contenting itself with annual summaries.

I find this a particularly shocking state of affairs, especially given that the Commissioner set himself a target in 2005 to receive a positive statement that there has been a proper use of Community funds in Member States. It is rather sad and disappointing that the Commissioner has been unable to meet this objective before the end of his term. Furthermore, not only does it beggar belief that the accounts have not been signed off in over 13 years but it makes one wonder whether the next Commission will be successful in achieving this within its mandate.

A NEW team of European Commissioners will take office on November 1 2009. However, it is not yet known who they will be. Our current British incumbent, Peter Mandelson, the EU Commissioner for Trade has ruled out a second term and will not be seeking a nomination for a further 5 years. Speculation is therefore rife as to who will take his place; Commissioners are nominated by their national governments in consultation with the incoming President, and must be approved by the European Parliament. It will therefore depend on who the Prime Minister is at the time of nomination!