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In a damning annual report, the European Court of Auditors warned funds dished out by Brussels may have been misspent, squandered or lost to corruption. The Luxembourg-based watchdog refused to give the 2019 EU budget a clean bill of health, warning it was plagued by widespread problems. Auditors issued an “adverse opinion” on the EU’s spending and branded more than half of last year’s EU £142 billion expenditure as “high-risk”.
Their report concluded: “The effects of the errors we found are therefore both material and pervasive to the accepted expenditure of the year.”
In 2019, Britain sent a staggering £15.8 billion to Brussels, according to the latest data published by the Office for National Statistics.
The report’s authors conceded that EU funding is impossible to track once paid out to governments, because “these funds then merge with that country’s own budget resources”.
The watchdog also admitted the coronavirus pandemic had hampered its work in checking Brussels’ accounts.
They criticised eurocrats for forking out public money on footpaths in Portugal, a waste management scheme in Togo and subsidised contracts for staff at a university in Spain.
Auditors found agriculture spending worth £53 billion, the EU’s largest annual outlay, was dogged by “irregular spending related to the presentation of false, incorrect or incomplete declarations, to potential conflicts of interest, and to suspected creation of artificial conditions.”
In one Hungarian case aid was used for the construction of a “storage facility for cereals” after funds were dished out to build a store for animal food.
And in Belgium, EU cash was given to a farmer to provide shelter for “endangered species” but aerial photos later found the habits had been destroyed.
The £48 billion development budget was also plagued with findings of “ineligible projects” and “serious non-compliance with public procurement rules”.
One EU-funded contract in Romania was handed out to a firm without the necessary experience to carry out the “landfill rehabilitation project”.
Auditors said the 64 “quantifiable errors” they found last year cost the bloc’s budget almost £300 million.
The watchdog urged the European Commission to review its anti-fraud measures and carry out probes of member states’ “fraud prevention measures”.
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While not all the irregularities identified by the EU auditors were classed as fraud, they set an error rate at 2.7 percent, or £3 billion of payments.
Their “material” error warning signals a serious misuse of taxpayers’ money.
Britain continues to pay into the EU’s budget coffers for the transition period agreed as part of last year’s Brexit divorce deal.
Downing Street has vowed to stop sending vast sums of money to the bloc after the end of the year.
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German MEP Joachim Kuhs said: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. The audit doesn’t look at whether money was well spent but merely if rules were followed raises doubts over the true picture.
“The EU must stop wasting our money on frivolous and self-serving vanity projects.
“Senior EU officials often claim that they will miss having the British at the table in Brussels. What they actually mean is that they will miss fleecing the British taxpayer. Sadly, it looks like we Germans are the mugs who will have to keep on bankrolling this nonsense.”
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