Brussels sweats on court’s accounts verdict

The European Court of Auditors is set this week to deliver its verdict on EU
spending, as Brussels looks to get a clean bill of health for its spending for
the first time ever.

The court is set to reveal its report on Tuesday. The EU has been criticised
by the court for its accounting of the handouts it gives to farmers, academics
and other groups, on the basis either of fraud or inaccurately filed paperwork
since the reports began in 1994.

Brian Gray, the EC’s accounting officer, says in an interview with
Accountancy Age today that ‘there is a very marginal element of fraud’
in EU accounts. He comments on current initiatives to turn the situation around,
and refers to the bitter battle with former chief accounting officer Marta

‘[Marta] was recruited from outside. Within five months she had lost the
confidence of her bosses and moved out. I looked to see what she was complaining
about. Generally what she had found is written on by the Court of Auditors,’ he

The release of the report is likely to see the usual battles over who is to
blame for the problems. Last year EU anti-fraud commissioner Siim Kallas got the
retaliation in first by pinning the blame on member states’ unwillingness to
check the spending they are responsible for distributing.

UK comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn also appeared to lend his
support last year by saying that if he had to audit UK accounts on the EU basis,
he would have to qualify them as a whole.

He told a Lords committee on the subject: ‘If you are trying to wrap up all
the expenditure in one statement, it will be very difficult to get there [to a
statement of assurance].’

Sir John also argued that the traditions of the EU and UK auditing were in
origin different. ‘The court comes out of a different tradition from the
National Audit Office. It does come out of the Roman law tradition, which sees
auditing as essentially about legality and regularity rather than a tradition
which looks at the accounts and asks if they give a true and fair view.’

The court always objects to the legality and regularity of the transactions
rather saying the accounts do not give a true and fair view.

The commission is only responsible for around 20% of the funds distributed
under agricultural programmes, regional redistribution initiatives and other
The UK has pledged to produce a statement on its own spending to be audited by
the NAO.

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