The error rate on EU budget spending was almost 5% in 2012, according to the annual report by the European Court of Auditors, published on Tuesday (5 November).

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) presented its annual report to the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee on Tuesday (5 November). The report discussed the audit of the EU’s budget for 2012.

While the court of auditors signed off on projects funded by the EU budget, they reported that errors occurred too frequently and in too many areas. The rate of error in spending the budget was 4.8% for 2012, up from 3.9% in 2011.

Most common errors included “payments for beneficiaries or projects that were ineligible” or purchases of services, goods or investments “without proper application of public purchasing rules,” the auditors said.

Most errors occurred in spending the rural development fund, the report shows. This part of the budget, worth €15 billion in total, has an error rate of 7.9%. The budget allocated to regional policy, energy and transport accounts for some €40.7 billion, of which 6.8% contained errors in its expenditure.

‘Rethink the spending framework’

The auditors called for the EU to rethink the way it spends the budget across the 28 member states. Currently, the funding is allocated to member states, which are responsible for spending it according to set rules.

But the budget's legislative framework is too complex, the ECA said in its presentation. EU countries also have little incentive to spend their part of the EU budget correctly. The auditors called for a simplification of the rules, focused on the value the EU funds are intended to bring.

“[These errors] persist because the frameworks in place are not the right incentives to avoid them or are not being effectively applied. There is not sufficient attention being paid to the quality of expenditure,” said ECA President Vitor Caldeira in a video statement.

>> Read Caldeira's OpEd on EurActiv: Next EU budget should put value for money first

Algirdas Šemeta, the commissioner responsible for auditing, said that "breaches of national rules account for significant part of the error rate,” citing poor reliability of national checks and overcomplicated systems as the main sources of errors.

Naming and shaming

Although the European Commission carries the final responsibility for how EU money is spent, member states have significant room for manoeuver on allocating funds, and carry a shared responsibility for the monitoring of such spending.

MEPs were divided over who was to blame for the errors.

Michael Theurer of the liberal ALDE group said “the member states are chiefly to blame for the majority of the errors and not the European Commission”. Philip Bradbourn, from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, said that “the EU must accept ultimate responsibility for what happens to the money it dishes out.”

In 2012, the EU budget was €138.6 billion. Up to 80% of the budget is jointly managed by the EU member states and the Commission.

The European Parliament and the EU Council are currently entangled in a dispute over the budget for 2014. The European Parliament still has to hold a final vote on the long-term budget for 2014-2020, the multi-annual financial framework, on which a deal was struck over the summer.