MEPs earlier this week backed a report recommending that the European Commission improve the transparency of EU funding, including publishing online the names of people who abuse or defraud regional and cohesion funds.
The report, drafted by Greek Green MEP Michail Tremopoulos, was backed by a huge majority of MEPs in a Strasbourg plenary vote on Tuesday (15 June), and is likely to provide food for thought as the Commission debates how regional policy should be reformed beyond its current 2007-2013 budget period.
Currently, there is too much variation between how member states and regional authorities interpret the European Transparency Initiative (ETI), the report argues, largely due to the "relatively loose legal framework" concerning the publication of data on EU funding beneficiaries.
Tremopoulos noted that a number of positive steps had already been taken by the EU executive to increase transparency and bring the complex web of regional policy mechanisms in line with the ETI.
For example, the Greek MEP praised the interactive maps published on the website of the Commission's Directorate-General for Regional Policy, which provide links to the lists of Regional Development and Cohesion Fund beneficiaries in every EU region.
He also noted that member states and regions should do more to promote awareness of these maps, but cautioned that it nevertheless remains "extremely difficult for interested parties to keep track of how public money is being used".
Enable managing authorities
A first step to resolving this problem is to go into even greater detail when outlining funding recipients and the type of projects carried out by recipients, the report argues.
The data provided on beneficiaries needs to be improved in terms of both content and presentation, says Tremopoulos, pinpointing the need to include details on the location of projects, a summary of the activities and a description of the partners involved.
In many cases, argues the report, managing authorities in the regions are eager to increase transparency but lack the staff or know-how to do so.
As a result, if the Commission requires managing authorities to match its efforts in providing additional information and data, Brussels also needs to give additional technical support through, for example, workshops with the participation of Commission officials and local/regional staff responsible for the management of structural funds, the exchange of best practices between managing authorities and the publication of concrete guidelines.
Naming and shaming
One interesting innovation is the report's call for cases of proven fraud in the use of EU funds – a recurring problem across the EU, but particularly in new member states such as Bulgaria and Romania – to be made publicly available online.
Naming and shaming, "particularly if a governmental actor is involved," will ensure "high standards of credibility and responsibility vis-à-vis the European public," Tremopoulos argues.
According to the report, the "disclosure of EU fund recipients enables public participation in a meaningful debate about how public money is spent, which is essential for functioning democracies".
Greek Green MEP Michail Tremopoulos said "I drafted this report in order to propose to the European Commission all the necessary tools and suggestions to improve the transparency of EU funding. I had broad support for the proposals included in this report, which would ensure transparency, correct transactions and sound financial management of taxpayers' money".
He went on to note that "the adopted report proposes that transparency should be introduced as a guiding cross-sectoral principle in the cohesion programming process," adding: "Furthermore, in the next regulation on structural funds (after 2013) there should be more appropriate rules on transparency, better guidance, a warning mechanism and sanctions in cases of non-compliance as a last resort."
He also argued that "one of the other main elements of the report is that additional essential information should be provided when publishing the lists of beneficiaries and the lists of stakeholders," concluding that "the European Parliament also wants the European Commission to improve the transparency of its decisions with respect to EU funding of major projects".
In a 2008 joint letter to the heads of regional policy at the European Commission, the NGOs Friends of the Earth and CEE Bankwatch expressed concern that a number of cohesion policy-funded projects were environmentally unsound, and called for the introduction of transparency measures similar to the ones outlined in the Tremopoulos report.
"We would like to insist that the European Commission publishes updated documentation of each project from the Operational Programmes' indicative lists, which are in the pipeline as planned or potential for financing," they insisted.