EU-Court of Auditors: agricultural money procedures still not watertight

Although the European Union has rules to prevent conflicts of interest when awarding subsidies, too little is still being done to avoid risky situations. This is the conclusion of an investigation by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) following reports of fraud and favoritism involving EU money in some Central and Eastern European countries.  

In four EU countries, the accountants have examined payments of the cohesion fund and agricultural subsidies, together the largest expenditures of the EU. The researchers say there is little publicly available information about the extent of conflicts of interest in the management of EU spending. 

There is also no clarity about the extent and scope of these kinds of conflicts. Not all irregularities are reported to Brussels, or they are detected and corrected at national level before money is requested from the Commission.

Under current EU rules, iedereen dealing with EU grants (at EU and national level) is required to avoid conflicts of interest. If a conflict of interest is suspected or established, the relevant authority must ensure that the person concerned relinquishes those duties.

The European Court of Auditors says that in many EU countries, signing so-called 'self-declarations' is the most common method of avoiding conflicts of interest. It has already been shown that in many EU countries, action is taken only after abuse has already taken place. 

The researchers further found that in the four countries studied (Germany, Hungary, Malta and Romania) self-declarations were not mandatory for ministers who were involved in decisions about EU programs and the allocation of EU grants. 

The auditors find that the EU countries place a strong emphasis on detecting conflicts of interest in their own public procurement, but do not pay enough attention to weak links in their own processes and procedures.