EU accounts slated.

The European Court of Auditors has found an ‘unacceptable’ number of errors in the accounts of the European Union for 1999, as in previous years.

It says as a result it ‘cannot provide assurances the transactions underlying the financial statements are legal and regular except as regards own resources, the commitments and the institutions’ staff expenditure.’

The annual audit of the EU’s books has exposed ‘weaknesses’ in accounting systems and procedures with information presented that is in some cases ‘incomplete or incorrect.’

The findings will come as a further embarrassment to EU chiefs as they gather for its annual summit in Nice this week to discuss a wide range of controversial subjects.

But the Court warns against interpreting errors as indications of fraud, saying mistakes were ‘mainly those of inadequate financial management.’

Most errors occur in public programmes managed by member states and particularly concern such things as overpayments to farmers. Only a small proportion of the breaches justified further investigation by the EU or national authorities, the Court said.

Last year was a critical one for the EU. The disclosure of serious weaknesses in financial transactions, following exposure by whistleblower Paul van Buitenen, led to the resignation of the Commission in March and its replacement by a new team dedicated to stamping out abuses and inefficiency.

The Court said the reform programme set in motion by the new Commission ‘constitutes a positive response to the weaknesses in financial management and control.’

But the reforms had still to be implemented ‘and it is only when new procedures and systems are in place and functioning that it will be possible to assess their impact.

For the reforms to work, changes are needed in the management culture, which will take time,’ said the Court.

European Court of Auditors

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