Member states show a mixed record when it comes to reporting irregularities in how EU funds for agriculture and regional policy are being spent. While Italy has been “overzealous” in its reporting, others hardly report any fraud at all, according to a new EU report. EURACTIV France reports.
The European Commission’s annual report (17 July) on the protection of the EU’s financial interests, raised the alarm over irregularities in EU fund spending.
As a whole, fraud represented less than 0.2% of all EU funds in 2013, or €248 million, compared to €315 million in 2012. The total amount of fraud in revenue is also decreasing, going from €61 million compared to €77.6 million in the previous year.
Still, the Commission warned that member states had to “step up their work to prevent, detect and report fraud affecting EU funds.”
Slacking member states
The responsibility to detect fraud is squarely on the shoulders of the member states, but some are not doing enough.
For example, Ireland reported no cases of fraud in 2013. Luxembourg and the Netherlands reported just one each for the same year. Other European countries, like Belgium, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, Finland and Sweden, each reported just two irregularities to the Commission.
France reported 15 cases in funds for agriculture, but just one in funds for cohesion policies, which represents 35.7% of the EU’s budget for the 2014-2020 period.
The Commission told France, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Denmark and the Netherlands to improve detection of fraud in cohesion policy funds, which go to the EU’s poorer regions.
Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal and Finland were also warned about fraud detection in agricultural funds.
Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Denmark and Greece are model students, having reported between 55 and 302 irregularities.
Italy, Romania and Poland recorded the highest levels of fraud in terms of financial amounts.
According to the report, the level of fraud in agriculture in Italy can partially be explained by “an over-zealous application of the fraudulent classification.” The country led by Matteo Renzi has a tendency to be too diligent in reporting fraud, which will be “further monitored in the coming years.”
In general terms, cases of corruption are extremely rare in irregularities reported by member states. In 2013, only three reported cases involved corruption (in the Czech Republic, Latvia and the Netherlands).
Algirdas Šemeta, the EU Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Statistics, Audit and Anti-Fraud, said: “In the last five years, the Commission has taken the fight against fraud to a new level. Our commitment to protect citizens’ money from fraudsters is clear from the tough and ambitious new rules, initiatives and frameworks we have put forward. Now it is time for Member States to play their part more effectively. They need to step up their game in preventing, detecting and prosecuting those who try to de-fraud the EU budget."
The EU Commission publishes a report on the protection of the EU’s financial interests every year in order to review measures undertaken to tackle fraud in EU funds.
This report also helps to determine the areas most affected by fraud, which means more targeted initiatives at the European and national level.