European Commission guidelines to Member States for final checks on cohesion and rural development spending are adequate, but certain risks still need to be addressed, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. In future, more attention should be given to the results achieved, say the auditors, rules for cohesion and rural development should be further aligned and a full report on closure sent to the European Parliament and the Council.
After the end of a programme period, programmes need to be financially settled, which means that any irregular expenditure in the EU share of projects co-financed by the Commission and the Member States has to be identified and returned to the EU budget. This process is known as “closure”. EU audits of the 2007-2013 period regularly showed that both cohesion and rural development programmes were prone to material levels of irregular spending.
The auditors compared arrangements for the two policy areas and assessed how the Commission obtained assurance that the final declaration contained expenditure that was both legal and regular and used in accordance with its objectives. They also analysed the timeliness and reporting of the closure process.
For 2007-2013, they found that while Member States’ reporting of results was mandatory and evaluated by the Commission, payment of the final balance was not directly linked to the actual achievement of outputs and results.
“Closure is a crucial moment in the lifecycle of a programme,” said Ladislav Balko, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “Any evaluation of how efficiently and effectively the funds were spent must include analysis of the results achieved.”