Despite improvements over recent years, EU Member States’ efforts to tackle fraud in cohesion spending remain too weak, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. Member States’ assessments of the effectiveness of their anti-fraud measures are too optimistic, say the auditors. Detection, response and coordination still need substantial strengthening to prevent, detect and deter fraudsters effectively.
Over 4,000 potentially fraudulent irregularities affecting the EU’s financial interests were identified between 2013 and 2017. These represented almost €1.5 billion of EU support, 72% of which concerned cohesion policy, including the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund. Responsibility for fighting fraud in these areas lies primarily with the Member States.
The auditors assessed whether managing authorities and anti-fraud coordination services in Member States have properly met their responsibilities at each stage of the ‘anti-fraud management process’, from prevention and detection to response, including reporting on detected cases and recovery of funds unduly paid. To this end, they visited seven Member States: Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Spain.
“Cohesion policy represents one third of the EU budget but accounts for nearly 40% of all reported fraud cases and almost three-quarters of the total financial amounts involved in these cases”, said Henri Grethen, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “Member States, however, generally conclude that their existing anti-fraud measures are good enough. We consider this conclusion too optimistic.”