By Martin Banks - 10th May 2012
My advice to them is stop your governments sending contributions to Brussels
Agencies funded and operated by the EU have come under renewed spotlight after accounting 'errors' were found in three of them.
The three agencies are the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and the Environment Agency, whose combined budget for last year came to some €137m.
Concern about the three was raised as MEPs debated the approval, or discharge as it is known, of the 2010 EU budget accounts in the mini plenary on Thursday.
MEPs adopted a report by Romanian EPP member Monica Macovei that the approval of the food agency’s 2010 budget will be postponed.
A strongly worded resolution was adopted denouncing the alleged conflicts of interest that have plagued the agency.
A similar decision was taken on the approval of the 2010 budget of the medicines agency.
A European Court of Auditors report for the year 2010 states that the "error rate"- the term for the irregular use of funds- has grown by 3.7 per cent, or €4.6bn, for the EU budget as a whole.
Auditors say that 50 percent of the transactions they took as samples were "affected by errors".
On the EU agencies, one MEP, who did not wish to be named, said, "On the medicines agency the office chief left to lobby for a leading pharmaceutical firm.
"The food safety chief resigned over poor accounting and the environment agency head was under pressure for using €30,000 of EU funds for 'staff training sessions' in Caribbean and Mediterranean projects managed by an NGO, EarthWatch, whose advisory board she sat on.
"The 'green façade' project – putting plants around the exterior of her offices – in Copenhagen also totalled €300,000."
Initial comment came from British Tory MEP Marina Yannakoudakis who, speaking in the plenary, called for a "bonfire of EU quangoes".
She said this should include the Vilnius-based European Institute for Gender Equality which, she said, "has no added value".
"The institute is an expensive folly with a budget of €7m. It duplicates the work of member states, the work of the commission's DG employment, and – most shamefully of all – the work of another EU agency: the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
"The British government, when faced with austerity promised a bonfire of the quangoes. Winding up advisory bodies and agencies in the UK is set to save the country over €2bn.
"The EU needs to light its own quango bonfire and where better to start than with the European Institute for Gender Equality?"
More reaction came from UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen who said, "This parliament's scrutiny powers over the financial management of the EU budget by the commission and the other EU institutions is the most important responsibility we hold as representatives of our citizens.
"They look to us to do the right thing. Yet year after year while the European Court of Auditors fails to give EU budget spending a clean bill of health, parliament has no problem giving it an overall stamp of approval.
"The growing number of agencies - from three in the year 2000 to 24 in the year 2010 - on which the commission seems to have little control and where internal control procedures are generally found to be deficient should merit serious analysis.
"Even their very existence should be put into doubt. This year three fell under the spotlight, last year it was other agencies, next year it will be doubtless be different agencies too.
"For taxpayers their EU budget contribution is going into pockets with holes in them. And nobody here seriously wants to mend them.
"My advice to them is stop your governments sending contributions to Brussels."
On the food agency, Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory said, "This vote is a very important signal that conflicts of interests with industry are not acceptable. By postponing the approval of EFSA's budget, parliament has used its powers to tell EFSA to be serious about the links between its experts and staff on the one hand, and industry on the other.
"After all, EFSA is supposed to be 'the independent voice of science' guiding EU institutions. Despite EFSA's new rules, it is uncertain whether conflicts of interest will be adequately dealt with. The new rules are a considerable improvement, but they are not 100 per cent conflict-proof."