From claiming agricultural subsidies for a motocross track as ‘arable land’ to the curious case of the non-functioning sewerage system in Greece, this year’s Court of Auditors’ report shows that the European Union remains rotten to the core.
It’s a big blow for those who have spent year after year championing elusive ‘EU reform’. After 42 years of the United Kingdom trying to reform the European Union, the report shows that the system remains as bad as ever. The Conservatives failed to reform the EU, then Labour did, then the Conservatives did. Then Labour failed again, then the Coalition failed, and now the Conservatives claim they’re going to manage it. Of course, they’re not asking for any meaningful reform so they’ll spin almost anything as successful renegotiation.
Forget the headlines about whether or not the accounts have been signed off. Read one newspaper, and they’ll say the accounts were signed off. Read another, and they’ll tell you they weren’t. They’ll say it’s now two decades and counting. So what’s the truth? Well, the accepted ‘error rate’ is 2% – if there’s less than 2% of the EU’s budget mis-spent, then it’s considered acceptable and the accounts are approved. That’s never happened. This year the figure is 4.4% – and that’s after some of the calculations have been relaxed to make the target easier to hit.
The sewerage system in Greece is a classic example of a total failure of joined-up thinking. Back in 2006, an application was made for EU funding to build a sewerage plant and networks. Seven years later, the project was completed in 2013. But no-one thought to connect the sewerage network to private households, making the whole project completely irrelevant and pointless. It’s rumoured that now there are some plans afoot for the system to be connected. Maybe.
In Castilla La Mancha (Spain), there is a piece of land set aside as arable land. At least, that’s what they claimed EU funding for. But upon closer examination it turns out to actually be a motocross track. Naturally.
In Romania, staff were paid three times the going rate for working on an EU-funded project. Elsewhere, a truck was purchased for a ‘small business’ which turned out to actually be a large company. In Italy, a high-speed rail project claimed for what appears to have been an out-of-court legal settlement with a subcontractor.
From part-time employees being paid as full-time, to elaborate schemes with businesses setting up subsidiary micro-enterprises to qualify for small business grants, it’s clear that there’s something deeply wrong with the system.
Every year, the discussion out here in Brussels is a carbon copy of the previous year’s. They may as well simply play a recording of last year’s and save the trouble of debating it again. Every year we are told why next year will be better; it never is.
The problem is actually quite fundamental. We hand over £55 million a day to the European Union, and we’re given about £22 million of it back to spend on EU projects. However, the EU has a string of complex rules for those projects. Applications for funding are complex and bureaucratic. So even if there is no actual fraud (and in many cases there is), the level of difficulty involved when dealing with Brussels and national governments leads to the system being riddled with errors.
Outside the European Union, how simple life would be! Instead of handing them £55 million and getting £22 million back, we could give the £22 million to worthy causes ourselves – and much more efficiently, leaving them to get on with the jobs that they do best. Then we could keep the other £33 million a day for ourselves, either to cut the deficit hugely or to employ an army of doctors, teachers, police officers and nurses. Or, come to think of it, we could actually do something about the actual army.
Yet the EU will continue to take credit for all that ‘EU funding’ that they give us, warts and all. They shouldn’t be given credit for giving us some of our own money back. I can’t be grateful for that; will this confidence trick really con the British public into voting to remain in the European Union?
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.