To ensure that EU taxpayers get maximum value for their money, the Court of Auditors has the right to check ('audit') any person or organisation handling EU funds. The Court frequently carries out on-the-spot checks. Its findings are written up in reports submitted to the Commission and EU national governments.
The Court of Auditors has no legal powers of its own. If auditors discover fraud or irregularities they inform OLAF – the European Anti-Fraud Office.
One of the Court's most important jobs is to present the European Parliament and the Council with an annual report on the previous financial year (the 'annual discharge'). Parliament examines the Court’s report thoroughly before deciding whether or not to approve the way in which the Commission has handled the budget.
The Court also has to give its opinion on EU financial legislation and how to help the EU fight fraud.
Auditors frequently carry out inspections in EU institutions, member countries and countries receiving EU aid. While the Court's work mainly concerns money for which the Commission is responsible, in practice 80% of the income and expenditure is managed by national authorities.
To do its job properly, the Court of Auditors must stay completely independent of the other institutions but remain in constant touch with them.
The Court has one member from each EU country appointed by the Council for a six-year term (renewable). The members elect one of their number as President for a term of three years (also renewable). Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira, from Portugal, was elected President in January 2008.
The Court of Auditors has approximately 800 staff, including translators and administrators as well as auditors. The auditors are divided into ‘audit groups’. They prepare draft reports on which the Court takes decisions.