Ho, ho, here we go again. A question posed in the House of Commons by Philip Davies (Con) as cited by the Open Europe blog:

Given that the accounts of the EU have not been signed off by the auditors for 15 years running, why do the Government keep giving more and more money to the EU? Surely if the Government are serious about reform of the EU budget, they should say that the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.

Euros - CC / Flickr
Euros - CC / Flickr
This has become a familiar meme for the Tories on Europe – the EU doesn’t sign off its books, therefore this is a good reason for not cooperating with the EU, not giving it more cash, bla, bla. Cameron even mentioned it in one of his speeches at Tory Party Conference.

So here you are Mr Davies, you who claims at the top of your website to not represent ‘self-interests’, here’s why your question, and the Tory line, is a load of rubbish, and here’s also what the Tories (and indeed anyone else) should do about it.

Firstly, the European Union budget is complicated. Most of the money gets transferred from the European Commission to bodies in the Member States at national or regional level, and these bodies spend the cash. Tracing every last Euro down to every last farmer or training project is a very hard task. And don’t assume this is just something those evil ones across the Channel do – the UK experience is not good on this either.

Secondly, no equivalent budgetary sign off exists in the UK, so it’s not as if the UK is perfect and Brussels is bad. Quoting the Select Committee on European Union Fiftieth Report on the matter:

149. Sir John Bourn, Comptroller and Auditor General at the UK’s National Audit Office told us that, were he required to issue a single Statement of Assurance on the UK Government’s accounts in the same way as the Court of Auditors does for Europe’s accounts, he, like the Court, would be unable to do so (Q 192). This is because last year he issued a qualified opinion on 13 of the 500 accounts of the British Government which he audits.

In short, is the EU budget perfect? No. Is any national government any better? No, probably not, and at least the UK’s is not.

So stop using that as a stick to bash the EU.

So then Mr Davies, Open Europe, hell, even Alistair Darling – you want to do something about this? What you should do is to argue that the European Commission needs at least 1000 additional, new auditors who will spend all of their time digging around in the books of each of the Member States and their regional and local governments, digging up fraud and wrongdoing wherever they find it.

But of course if you’re a Tory you’re never going to go for this either, because then you would have a whinge that EU auditors having a look into the UK’s books would be some infringement on the UK’s national sovereignty, that they would be public sector workers and Tories want a small state etc., and ooh, of course a UK government run by that nice Mr Cameron would never do anything remotely questionable, would it now…?


  1. This is the problem of the EU accountability and lack of democracy . The EU imposes excessive legislation on EU countries , yet is incapable of getting is accounts signed off , has shown its incapable of handling a major crisis , whether its the Greek crisis , illegal migration , or even solving the economic and employment problems .
    When the EU talks about taking in asylum seekers , yet is incapable of finding jobs for the 20+ million unemployed in the EU , then it is asking for major problems and unrest .
    Many EU leaders have basically committed treason , by not upholding the rule of law concerning illegal migration , and will have to be punished in the near future

  2. Mike Hanlon

    But isn’t it the case that auditors also find annual irregularities in the multi-bn euro programmes for which the Commission has sole responsibility? Blaming member states for the probs & saying other stuff is just as bad is a very weak defence I’m afraid. I wonder if you’re serious about protecting public money or just scrabbling to excuse your beloved 1950s EU project?

  3. @Adrian – A Tory criticising ME for “born-to-rule lack of accountability” – who the hell do you think you are? And then threatening to take up arms against me?

  4. Adrian Thomas

    Yes. We horrid Tories are going to whinge and complain about your supercilious, born-to-rule lack of accountability, and be a pain in your side, all the time. If you think political life should exist without this, then take up arms and ban all dissent using command and control. But don’t be surprised if I take up arms against you, Euroboy. Capisce?

  5. Chris Spicer

    It begs the question – why even bother to ask the accounts to be signed off if you’re never going to achieve sign-off? Either way, I won’t be voting for President Van Rompuy again… errr…..

  6. Bill bogg

    I would like to see the argument being made here being made in a court of law : “Look here gov I took the money from x and handed it to y to spend . Nothing to do with me gov ” . And yet people here think that is a valid defence! Unbelievable

  7. Fergus O'Rourke

    Is the premise even correct i.e. is it actually true that the auditors have “refused to sign off” for the last 15 years ? I thought that they *had* signed -off for 2007, or was that dis-information ?

  8. robert

    Maybe we can refuse to pay taxes until the UK Government can sign off its accounts to the same degree at the EU (i.e. without any qualifications).

  9. James Burnside

    “…the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.” I love the logic here – surely a proper audit is one which identifies problems? Perhaps he meant a “successful” audit?
    In any case, the non-specific “has not signed off the accounts” enables the attack to shift target, without acknowledging that significant improvements have been made over the years. In particular, the inadequacies of the commission’s accounting system, highlighted by Marta Andreassen in the past, appear to have largely been resolved, but most of the criticism fails to acknowledge that.
    Anybody who takes the trouble to read the court of auditors report – or even just its president’s statement to the EP on 26 November – will see in exactly what areas there are still significant levels of irregular payments (not necessarily fraudulent). Moreover, both the court and the commission are becoming more specific in public about exactly which member states are the biggest offenders. So the spotlight is falling ever brighter on the real problem areas.

  10. I’m confused… do you mean UK or EU? And have the Tories made that commitment?

  11. paulstpancras

    So should the government ever be a Conservative one, after 12 months the Auditor General will sign off the accounts. That’s quite a commitment.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *