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European Commissioner responsible for Regional Policy

"Statement on Court of Auditors' annual report"

Court of Auditors report
Brussels, European Parliament 10 October 2008

The European Commission welcomes the findings of today's report by the European Court of Auditors on the 2007 expenditure: they show that we are moving in the right direction.

The auditing requirements are there to ensure that European Union taxpayers' money is used properly and to avoid errors and fraud. The rules are rightly stringent.

The Commission has been working hard to reduce the error rate in payment claims from Member States for projects co-financed by the EU - and we are seeing results.

There is a need to continue our efforts, but let's not lose sight of the big picture: The Cohesion Policy investments that Europe channels through the Structural Funds make a huge difference. European Union money helps to transform regional and national economies, it invests in people's skills, infrastructure modernisation, in innovation and the environment: it creates thousands of jobs every year and delivers long-term sustainable growth.

  • The policy has created around 600,000 jobs since the year 2000. Current forecasts suggest that by 2013, it will increase GDP in Latvia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic by around 8.5%, by 5.5% in Poland and by 3.5% in Greece.

The European Commission launched an action plan earlier this year to squeeze down the error rate further. We did it because, like the Court, we believe that the error rate in structural actions is too high. We will have to wait until next year's Court of Auditors' report to see what impact that has had, but I'm optimistic that we will continue to see improvements.

Our new action plan has a 2-pronged strategy:

  • To help Member States to do a better job of checking the eligibility of project expenditure before they submit payment claims to the Commission;
  • To take tougher measures to stop payments or claw back money if Member States fall below standards.

So far this year, we have clawed back €843 million – three times more than in 2007. More financial corrections are in the pipeline.

The objective is not to punish anyone, it is simply to protect EU taxpayers' money and to recover funds where they have been paid out without full respect for EU rules and laws.

The Commission is very conscious of the need to strike the right balance between insisting on the best possible controls and audits, and ensuring that the cost of enhanced controls delivers value for money in terms of the benefits obtained. We are also continuing our efforts to simplify funding regulations by, for instance, making rules more proportionate for projects which generate revenues, and we are working with Member States to identify other simplifications.

Finally, I'd like to address a common misconception. Errors do not mean fraud. When the Court and the Commission's auditors talk about errors, they mean non-compliance with conditions for receiving EU funds. Where there are problems, in 99% of cases they are the result of errors which can be fixed and not a result of fraud.

And in all cases, the Commission always takes action to recover funds which have been misused.

Thank you.

Links to the video statement:

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