One of the truly shocking aspects of the European Union has been that, for twelve years in a row, its auditors have felt quite unable to sign off the
What do you suppose would happen to a major
Quite simply there would be as major fuss and the said company would find itself in very very serious trouble, not least on the stock exchange where it would, as like as not, be consigned to oblivion. Executives would be queuing up at The Bailey to receive their just desserts and the auditors would be out on their ear.
Not so the EU which sails on year after year, its gunwales awash with fraud and misappropriation, unable properly, or, for that matter, at all to account for the probity of as much as 66% of its 'expenditure".
"Over declarations and ineligible expenditure continue to go undetected within the majority of EU expenditure areas."
runs one headline in the EU's press release of October 2006 concerning the 2005 accounts. It goes on:
"For most of the payment budget - agriculture, structural measures, internal policies and external action - the Court is again not in the position to provide an unqualified opinion on the legality and regularity of transactions due to continuing high levels of error. The situation is caused by deficiencies in internal control, in particular in Member States for shared management expenditure, but also within expenditure directly managed by the Commission, such as internal policies. The Court found evidence of internal control checks being incompletely or inadequately carried out in many areas of the budget, both within Member States and at the Commission."
This contrasts, starkly, with the position on EU revenue, to which the Court of Auditors is able to give approval as to the accuracy.
What does this mean in blunt terms?
Quite simply that the EU is very very good at making sure it receives every last penny that it squeezes out of the Member States, especially the likes of the UK which is a net contributor to the EU.
But when it comes to most of the EU's expenditure, the reality is that they cannot say for sure who has had it and upon what it has been spent, so that the Irish road builder who has just been paid, say, €1 billion for a couple of miles of by-pass or the Greek Goat Farmer who has just claimed and received the payments for the 250,000 goats on his 5 hectare farm will both be laughing all the way to the Bank and thence to the luxury yacht on the Mediterranean.
This is, of course, you may cry, all old news: as indeed it is, October 2006's news to be precise. So why, I hear you all ask, do you bring up all this dirty linen now?
Well, that is simple: because of the position that the rehashed Constitution Mark II ascribes to the Court of Auditors as an Institution of the European Union.
The Court of Auditors is one of the less well-known bodies of the EU: after all number crunching and bean counting, a task performed in the
Article 9 (1) of the Constitution Mark II names the Court of Auditors as one of the seven Institutions of the EU, on a par with the Parliament, The European Council, The European Court and so on. As such it shares with them certain obligatory objectives requiring the Court of Auditors and the other Institutions to "aim to promote its values, advance its objectives, serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of the Member States, and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions".
Thus, whatever the Treaty may say concerning the requirement of independence in the performance of their duties, the obligatory nature of Article 9 (1) and the requirement in Article 9 (2) for the Court of Auditors (and all the other Institutions) to practise "mutual sincere cooperation" mean that that any notion of their independence is circumscribed by and subordinated to the terms of Article 9. So, as matter of law, if there were to be any perceived conflict between whistle-blowing on fraud and theft and 'advancing' EU 'objectives', it would be the latter which would prevail and the idea of the independence of the Court can go hang.
It is of note that neither the Court of Auditors nor the European Court was included in the equivalent Article 1-19 of the the Constitutional treaty Mark I: their inclusion in Article 9 now represents a further integrationist locking together of the EU's state-like Institutions.
Of course the newly proposed Article 246 promises that the Court "shall examine the accounts of all Union revenue and expenditure, and shall ensure good financial management": but it has failed for twelve years in a row to 'ensure good financial management', only going so far as to elucidate the gross fraud and theft of EU money that is taking place, but doing nothing actually to halt it.
Auditors are supposed to be independent. Accounts in this country will not suffice in the absence of due independence.
But here we have the Court of Auditors as an interlocking institution of the EU which shares with the rest of the institutions, new and old, certain obligations operating under a legal mandate which plainly lobotomises any sense of independence.
How may we therefore be assured that the Taxpayers of the EU are being presented with a an accurate and honest account of the acquiring and spending of their money? For how much longer will pointing out the thieving ways of the EU's recipients of largess be permitted to clash with the mandatory advancing of the EU's wider, political objectives?