Too many blunders in EU’s outlay of billions say auditors

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Europe’s governments were challenged yesterday to get a grip on EU spending after a financial watchdog said too much money was “not hitting the target”.

Auditors warned there are still too many errors in the way billions of pounds a year is being spent, with failures to detect and correct errors.

There was an estimated “error rate” of 3.9 per cent in payments from the 2011 euro-budget of nearly 130 billion euros (£104 billion), according to yesterday’s report from the European Court of Auditors.

That compares with 3.7 per cent last year, prompting the Court’s President, Vitor Caldeira, to warn: “Member states must agree on better rules for how EU money is spent, and member states and the European Commission must enforce them properly.”

The message came in the run-up to an EU summit clash over calls from Eurocrats and MEPs for inflation-busting rises in EU spending, with Prime Minister David Cameron threatening to veto anything but a spending freeze.

The report said the European Commission and EU governments “must manage spending better”, but the Commission responded that it was up to national and local authorities, who are responsible for disbursing about 80 per cent of the entire EU budget in regional, social and agriculture grants every year, to get their books straight.

In agriculture spending – an area the UK says funding from the EU must be slashed – the auditors found one case where a farmer was awarded a “special premium” to pay for 150 sheep but the auditors who visited his farm found he had no sheep at all.

Land in Italy and Spain listed as “permanent pasture” and thus qualifying the maximum possible EU subsidy turned out to be “dense forest” and ineligible for any EU cash.