Court of Audit: EU countries slow to reclaim unjustified subsidies

In general, little is recovered from unjustly paid European agricultural subsidies, but there are major differences between the EU countries. This is evident from a study by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Over the past ten years, 14 billion euros worth of 'misspent EU money' was involved in all policy areas.

When Brussels requests reimbursement for 'irregular expenses', it often takes one to two years for EU countries to take action.

“Recovery” of EU funds is the act of requesting the (partial) refund of money paid to organizations or beneficiaries subsequently determined to have failed to meet funding requirements. It often takes a very long time to get it back, if it is refunded at all, with 1 to 8 % of the funds ultimately being forgiven.

According to the Court of Auditors' 2022 Annual Report, the percentage of incorrect expenditure has increased from 3 % to 4.2 % of the EU budget since 2021. This makes actual collection an increasingly urgent problem. 

Since less than a quarter of the budget is managed directly by the European Commission, and three quarters together with EU countries or other bodies, it can sometimes be difficult to prevent errors and recover money.

In direct and indirect management, the European Commission is responsible for identifying irregular expenditure and recovering excess payments. With shared management, Brussels delegates these tasks to the EU countries, but bears final responsibility for them.

The auditors are now proposing to reintroduce certain incentives from the previous financing period to allow EU countries to cash in on the agricultural sector. In the last period, Member States had to pay back to the EU budget half of the money they had not recovered within four to eight years.