The subject of Europe polarises any otherwise rational debate. Obsessional prejudice, whether pro or con, induces deafness and drives out reason.
More inflammatory even than party politics (where spin and expediency have blunted the ideals), passions over Europe (the Union, not the continent) have taken on the trappings of a belief system, susceptible to neither argument nor evidential persuasion.
When debating theism/atheism with my daughter Gabi, a fanatical Richard Dawkins disciple, I can at least interject the odd question on the origin of life, love, music, consciousness or natural law before being subjected to another numbing harangue on how molecular DNA, driven by genetic mutation, accounts for the miracle of the Lacrimosa in Mozart’s Requiem.
That debate usually founders on the issue of evidence, but the astonishing thing about Europe is the indifference and lack of political will despite incontestable evidence that the finances of the EU’s executive and regulator, the European Commission (EC), are plagued by corruption and fraud at all levels while remaining immune from control and accountability.
Taxpayers of Europe continue to pour billions into this self-serving feeding trough, despite the Court of Auditors’ refusal, for the 12th year running, to sign off the EC’s accounts.
When Marta Andreason took the job of the EC’s Chief Accounting Officer in 2002 she was a devout supporter of the EU’s goals. She still is. But when she refused to sign off the EC accounts she was abused, suspended and eventually sacked. Her refusal was amply justified: Those accounts were produced from single-entry spreadsheets, irreconcilable with any other accounting records; prior-year comparatives differed from the actual figures by hundreds of millions of euros, which simply disappeared from both sides of the balance sheet; multi-million euro grants for “projects” were paid in advance and booked as “expenses” without sight of any supporting documents; and the bank-linked computer system was accessible to unauthorised users free to intercept and amend payment orders without trace.
Specific abuses of this free-for-all are legion. Under one of 14 so-called Eurostat scams EC officials set up their own companies and paid themselves huge directors’ fees out of commission funds. Another Eurostat company enjoyed the benefits of 54 fraudulent contracts with the Commission. After 10 internal investigations, with findings forwarded to prosecuting authorities in France and Luxembourg, there has not been a single major prosecution.
Disregarding its own accounting rules
The EU imposes strict accounting and auditing rules on companies in member states, yet the EC’s own accounts are pure fantasy: billions of euros float in and out of its single-entry spreadsheets every year. For example, a figure for “long-term and short-term pre-financing” suddenly arrives for the first time at €28 billion with no explanation. The appearance, on another page, of €26 billion of may at first sight give a clue. But no – this purports to explain “an increase in the EC’s long-term pension liability”.
The EC’s current response to perennial revelations is that imposing anti-fraud controls is the responsibility of member countries, which are therefore to blame for failing to curb the theft of billions of euros annually. This is nonsense. Under the present regime of “shared management” neither member states nor the Commission take effective responsibility. The catalogue of abuses stems from the festering culture of corruption that characterises the EC administration at every level.
As annual contributors of around £15 billion it is time for UK taxpayers to recognise that nothing will happen to halt this hideous affront to accountability (1) until the EC’s treasury management and accounting functions are segregated; (2) until its internal auditors are made to report to the Chief Accounting Officer; (3) until the financial control function (abolished after the 1999 Santer scandal when the entire Commission was sacked) is re-established with full powers to enforce internal compliance; and (4) until the Court of Auditors, which now reports, ridiculously, on the Commission’s activities to the Commission itself, is made to report to the taxpayers of the EU via the Council of Ministers.
Basic stuff, really.