The way the European Commission hires and uses external consultants does not fully ensure that it maximises value for money or fully safeguards its interests, says a report published today by the European Court of Auditors. There are significant gaps in the framework governing the use of these services, with potential risks related to the concentration of service providers, overdependence and conflicts of interest which are not sufficiently monitored. The auditors also point out weaknesses in how consultants’ work and its added value are assessed.
The auditors found that the European Commission’s information system is unable to give a full picture of how the Commission uses external consultants. What is certain is that the Commission has made increasing use of external consultants to perform various advisory and support services. In recent years, it has contracted about €1 billion annually on a wide range of such services covering consultancy work, studies, evaluations and research activities. External providers are mainly involved in implementing the EU’s neighbourhood and enlargement policies, international partnerships, foreign policy instruments, and environmental and climate actions. The auditors checked whether the European Commission managed to get value for money and to safeguard its interests.
“Outsourcing some tasks can be useful and sometimes necessary”, said François-Roger Cazala, the ECA member responsible for the audit. “But the European Commission should make sure it maximises the value obtained for the amount of money it disburses. More transparency and accountability is needed about the tasks that can be outsourced and about the way the risks of supplier concentration, overdependence and conflicts of interest are managed. I hope our report will help the EU administration to move in that direction.”