By Martin Banks - 1st November 2010
The EU uses funding from the budget to buy support for the EU project
A new report has revealed that the amount of EU funding lost in fraud and "irregular payments" last year almost doubled to €1.3bn.
Fraudulent use of EU cash includes claims for a lemon and orange grove orchard that did not actually exist on the Italian island of Sicily.
In another case, thousands of euros were paid out to livestock owners in Slovenia for "non-existent" cattle.
According to the European commission's "Fight Against Fraud" report, irregularities in the common agricultural policy (CAP), which accounts for about half the EU budget, cost €1.2bn, up 23 per cent.
However, the worst area for fraud in 2009 was cohesion policy, where funds go to Europe's poorest regions and which takes up more than one third of the whole EU budget.
Suspected fraud and irregularities in this area was €1.2bn last year, up a huge 109 per cent.
An estimated one euro in every five handed out in aid was said to be "siphoned off by corrupt officials".
About two-thirds of alleged EU fraud concerns just six countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain.
The revelations come after EU leaders agreed to a 2.9 per cent increase in the EU budget for 2011 and as member states introduce tough austerity measures.
Ukip MEP Marta Andreasen, who was sacked from her job as the European commission's chief accountant after she blew the whistle on the state of the EU's accounts, was quick to respond. She said, "Why does the EU allow this situation to continue?
"Simple: the EU uses funding from the budget to buy support for the EU project."
Stephen Booth, of the Open Europe think-tank, added, "The fact that the amount of EU spending subject to fraud is actually on the increase is shocking in itself. But it makes the Commission and MEPs' demands for a bigger EU budget all the more outrageous."
Former MEP Chris Heaton-Harris, who is now an MP in Britain, said, "Everyone reading this will rightly be disgusted.
"But no-one in the commission or in Whitehall will be remotely surprised. The EU's accounts have not been signed off for 15 years, the culture and attitude towards taxpayers' money is a disgrace, whistleblowers are sacked if they dare to tell the truth.
"But no-one is ever sacked over misspending or fraud."
A European commission spokesman said, "We take the issue of fraud very seriously and have made considerable efforts to improve the system for finding and dealing with it."