EU spending commitments at record high of 238bn euros: watchdog

The EU's auditor on Thursday hailed progress in the bloc's wasteful spending, which fell to 4.2 billion euros in 2016, but warned that future spending commitments had hit an all-time high of nearly 240 billion euros.
The assessment comes as EU states wrangle over how to fill the budgetary hole left by Brexit, and as Britain disputes the bloc's claim about how much it owes towards future commitments.
The European Court of Auditors said that while there had been "sustained improvement" in the level of misspending, EU states and institutions could have reduced it still further if they had made use of all the information available to them.
The EU has committed to spending a record 238.8 billion euros on projects in the coming years -- money that will have to be found in future budgets -- even though it is still unclear how much Britain will contribute as it leaves the bloc.
Britain currently contributes around 12 percent of the EU budget, and its so-called "divorce bill" is a key sticking point in Brexit talks, the fourth round of which conclude in Brussels on Thursday.
"Clearing this backlog and preventing a new one should be priorities, bearing in mind the planning of EU spending in the period starting in 2020," said Klaus-Heiner Lehne, the head of the auditing body.
High levels of misspending were found on rural development and the environment, the auditors said, as well as on "economic, social and territorial cohesion" -- projects to reduce regional inequalities and regenerate old industrial areas.
- 'Important improvement' -
Examples of misspending included a Spanish recipient of regional development funds declaring costs twice and wrongly declaring VAT.
The report said the overall rate for wasteful spending fell to 3.1 percent of the EU's total 136.4 billion spending in 2016, amounting to 4.2 billion euros.
This was down from 3.8 percent and 5.5 billion euros in 2015 but still above the acceptable level of 2.0 percent.
The auditors nevertheless gave their first "qualified opinion" on the accounts since 1994, indicating that they found problems but that they were not pervasive. Up to now they have always given an "adverse" opinion, indicating widespread problems.
Lehne said the report reflected an "important improvement in EU finances", but urged more action to tighten up on misspending.
"We found that sufficient information was available to further prevent or detect and correct many errors," Lehne said. "In our view, this means that there is no need for additional controls, but the existing controls must be enforced properly."
The report said the figures were not a measure of fraud, inefficiency or waste, but an estimate of the money that should not have been paid out because it did not fully comply with EU rules.
EU spending in 2016 amounted to around 267 euros for every citizen in the bloc of around 500 million people.
Most of the money went on natural resources -- which covers the agriculture, fisheries and the environment -- with 57.9 billion.
by Damon WAKE
© 2017 AFP
EU spending commitments at record high of 238bn euros: watchdog EU spending commitments at record high of 238bn euros: watchdog Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 04:42:00 Rating: 5