But, in contrast to Baroness Noakes’ savaging of European Commissioners last year in Bruges, Graham Ward’s speech to the College of Europe – the hotbed of potential EU leaders – was positively pro-Europe.
‘There is no middle way for Europe to compete in the global race. We must give wholehearted commitment to its success and sustainability in a way that shakes off the ties of national considerations,’ urged Ward.
He insisted, however, that a prosperous Europe would only be achieved through strong leadership and a solid financial framework. Regulation and politics appeared to take a backstage in Ward’s speech on the way forward.
‘The major purposes of the Union are promoting the prosperity of peoples by promoting the prosperity of business. Unfortunately the popular perception is one of more and more regulatory output for its own sake. … and let us be honest here, of extremes of bureaucracy leading to financial incompetence,’ he told an audience of MEPs, commissioners and students.
Yet, like Baroness Noakes, Ward did not let European institutions off the hook as regards financial transparency.
‘Without a highly effective system of financial control, it is very difficult to keep track of the output of such a vast number of people. The transparent reporting of where subsidies are going and the outcomes in the use of those subsidies must be a matter for public record,’ said Ward.
With this he took the opportunity to distinguish between UK accountants and continental ones. ‘We are as different from bookkeepers as are architects from building workers.
‘If accountants had been allowed to assume a more important role in the development of Europe’s institutions, those institutions would now be much stronger – and subject to less challenge,’ he said.
In response MEP Louisewies van der Laan, who sits on the budget committee, said they were looking at publishing full accounts. But she said the cultural differences on what it means to have good corporate governance and parliament’s reticence to name and shame member states were posing obstacles.
Ward saved some praise for the efforts of vice president Neil Kinnock to instil financial accountability and transparency throughout the EU’s institutions.
Other concerns voiced focused on the ability to reconcile existing economic problems with the question of accession of new member states.
Ward said: ‘I think the question of admitting new members provides a constructive time to revisit ideas.’
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