Bill Carmichael: An EU scandal that never ends

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IMAGINE for a moment you joined a business and social club, paid your subscription and awaited the benefits, only to discover that they never materialised.

Instead, at the year end, the club treasurer submits a report in which he admits he had absolutely no idea how the combined subscriptions of members had been spent except for a certainty that much of it had been lost through fraud and waste.

Now imagine that instead of immediately resigning your membership, as any sane person would do, you continued paying your subscriptions for 17 years, and, despite promises that accounting systems would improve, the treasurer returned each year with the same sorry tale of plunder and incompetence. Incredible? Well not really, because that is exactly the position the UK finds itself in; the club in question, of course, being the EU.

This week Britain, along with Sweden and Netherlands, refused to sign off EU accounts in a protest against budget mismanagement. Why the three countries have suddenly roused themselves to act now is something of a mystery, because the EU Auditors have refused to approve EU accounts in each of the last 17 years.

And this action won’t actually make any difference. It is a purely symbolic gesture. The EU will go on spending your money without making even rudimentary efforts to keep proper records, just as it did before.

It is estimated that as little as 5 per cent of the EU’s total annual spending of £122bn can be validated by the EU Auditors.

It is not as though we have not been warned. Fully 10 years ago, the newly-appointed EU chief accountant Marta Andreasen was horrified to discover that antiquated accounting systems allowed enormous sums to be transferred from EU accounts without leaving any trace. She described EU coffers as “an open till waiting to be robbed”.

But instead of trying to reform, the EU reacted with a vile campaign of bullying of the hapless whistleblower.

Head of the lynch mob was former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, once a Euro-sceptic who became a fanatical Euro-zealot once he and most of his family were allowed to climb aboard the EU gravy train.

In an act of brutal vindictiveness Kinnock, then a European Commissioner, sacked Andreasen for failing to show sufficient “respect” to her masters in Brussels.

So the waste was allowed to continue unchecked. In fact it is getting worse. The European Court of Auditors found that in 2010 what is euphemistically called the “error rate” increased from 3.2 per cent to 3.7 per cent of the budget.

If Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands are really serious about solving this problem, the answer is simple – they should all agree to suspend any further contributions to the EU until the accounting system is overhauled and proper checks put in place.

But as it has taken them 17 years to utter even a small squeak of protest, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

In case you are wondering what your personal subscription to the EU costs – it is about £300 a year, the same for every Eman, woman and child in the UK.

Vive la différence

Is it au revoir to mademoiselle?

In an uncharacteristic outburst of political correctness, the French government is moving to ban the term – the French equivalent of “Miss” – from official documents because it suggest a woman is “available”. The move is apparently popular with feminists, and it should be noted that this is an election year in France and Nicolas Sarkozy is so far behind in the polls he needs all the support he can muster.

But I can’t help thinking such moves destroy the richness of a language in favour of dull, plodding conformity.