Monday, April 04, 2005

Now here's some real surprises

The scale of EU fraud is "difficult to calculate". So says the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. According to a report in The Telegraph today.

The committee then goes on to say that the EU's reputation has been "seriously damaged" by the high levels of fraud thought to exist within its financial arrangements, with the European Court of Auditors having failed to sign off the EU’s accounts for 10 years.

Furthermore, in 2003 member states reported irregularities, including alleged fraud, valued at £630 million. While this was 20 per cent lower than in 2002, it was higher than in 1999, when the anti-fraud office was created.

Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "The task of achieving strong audit and accountability arrangements in the European Union is one Sisyphus himself, endlessly pushing his huge stone to the top of the mountain, would not envy. Little has changed because of institutional inertia."

And as if this was not bad enough, nothing has changed on the scrutiny front, with the Telegraph also retailing complaints by the CBI that Britain's early-warning system for scrutinising proposed European Union rules and regulations is "badly flawed, failing to spot bad ideas early enough to head them off".

About half of all legislation imposing burdens on British business originates in Brussels but both politicians and Whitehall bureaucrats fail to devote enough time to monitoring it, a CBI pamphlet claims.

Sir Digby Jones, the CBI's director general, pins equal blame on the "shocking ignorance" of many British voters about the EU, and on their MPs, who "seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to keep abreast of events across the Channel".

"Measures that will affect millions of people and cost millions of pounds pass through UK formalities, en route to being implemented into UK law, whilst barely causing a ripple," Sir Digby writes in the pamphlet, for the Foreign Policy Centre, a think-tank.

In theory, all EU legislation is scrutinised by special committees in the House of Commons and House of Lords, assisted by special standing committees. But service on a European standing committee is seen as a specialist interest at best, and a dreary backwater at worst.

The scrutiny work, according to Sir Digby, often comes too late. By the time Westminster received EU papers outlining planned rules, the ideas may have gained unstoppable political momentum.

But then, readers of this Blog knew that already.

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