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Three countries refuse to sign off on EU accounts for 2010

The UK, Sweden and the Netherlands refused to sign off after the European Court of Auditors reported accounting errors.

Image: Virginia Mayo/AP

THREE EU MEMBER STATES have refused to sign off on the European Union’s official accounts for 2010 – complaining that auditors had once again reported financial errors in the accounts.

The United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands all declined to rubber-stamp the accounts, saying the European Court of Auditors had found errors above the 2 per cent threshold.

The move is not enough to stop the approval of the accounts, as the qualified majority of finance ministers attending yesterday’s meeting of the Economic and Financial Affairs council had signed off on the accounts.

EU Observer says the move is a symbolic one, however, as countries usually abstain on the approval of the accounts instead of actively voting against their ratification.

It adds that the report of the European Court of Auditors had found errors relating to 3.7 per cent of EU spending for 2010, well above the 2 per cent ‘permitted’ threshold – which was up from 3.2 per cent last year.

The level of errors in the account had declined in previous years, but shot up again for 2010 – indicating that transactions worth some €4.6 billion had been spent in breach of EU rules on procurement or spent in other ways which breached the EU’s tight spending rules.

The report does not imply or indicate, however, that any fraud has taken place – merely that the guidelines which should be followed in the spending of EU cash have not been rigidly observed.

The Financial Times quotes a common statement issued by each of the three finance ministers, who argued:

In these challenging times, member states should uphold the same high standards for the EU budget as they would for national budgets.

We should remember that national taxpayers stand behind the EU budget, and that’s why we are calling for important and urgent improvements to the quality of EU financial management.

The European Court of Auditors’ report marked the 17th year in succession in which the court declined to give the accounts a “positive statement of assurance”.

The No vote is likely to mean that the Budget could face significant opposition when it is presented to the European Parliament for final approval later this year.

The current Irish member of the court, Eoin O’Shea, will step down at the end of the month, when Kevin Cardiff will take his place.

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Gavan Reilly

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