Cooperation between the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) of the European Union and the European Court of Auditors (ECA) principally takes place within the framework of the Contact Committee structure. This structure consists of the Contact Committee itself, composed of the Heads of the EU SAIs and the ECA, the Liaison Officers, who provide an active network of professional contacts around Europe, as well as working groups, networks and task forces on specific audit topics.
The first meeting of Heads of SAIs of the EU (then EEC) was held in 1960. Since then, the Heads of the SAIs have been working together in the Contact Committee, which acts as a forum where matters of common interest are discussed. With the introduction of own resources to finance the EU budget in the late 1960s, and the subsequent extended role of the European Parliament in budgetary matters, the need for an independent external audit body for the EU became increasingly apparent. The Contact Committee was in fact instrumental in setting up the ECA and codifying its powers in the Treaty of Brussels in 1975, which led to the creation of the ECA in 1977. The Contact Committee invited the ECA to join in 1978, thereby becoming its tenth member.
As European integration has developed since the Treaty of Rome, so too has the role of the Contact Committee. Over the years, cooperation between EU Member States SAIs and the ECA has become more organised and institutionalised. This is also reflected in the European treaties where reference to such cooperation has gradually become more explicit.
The EC Treaty in its original form stated that the ECA shall undertake its audit in "liaison" with the SAIs of the Member States*, while the Treaty of Amsterdam later added "the Court of Auditors and the national audit bodies shall cooperate in a spirit of trust while maintaining their independence". Then, in the Treaty of Nice, Declaration 18 of its final act invited the ECA to set up a Contact Committee with the SAIs of the Member States (which in fact already existed)** .
However, cooperation between EU Member States SAIs and the ECA is not simply a legal obligation but rather a practical necessity dictated by the fact that Community and national administrations have become more and more closely linked. With the large-scale decentralisation of the management of the EU budget towards the national authorities in the Member States and beneficiary countries, the centre of gravity of the audit of EU money has moved towards these countries. As a consequence, the Treaty gave a legal basis for cooperation between the ECA and national supreme audit institutions or other competent national audit bodies. In practice, the national supreme audit institutions provide ECA's auditors with local practical and logistical support as well as specific knowledge of the audited field.
Cooperation with the SAIs of candidate and potential candidate countries
The Contact Committee promotes and facilitates cooperation between candidate and potential candidate countries and EU Member States SAIs by means of several initiatives, most of them within the framework of the Network of SAIs of candidate and potential candidate countries and the ECA. Besides the participation of the heads of those SAIs in the Contact Committee meetings as observers, the Joint Working Group on Audit Activities (JWGAA), successor of the former Contact Committee Working Group for Candidate Countries, promotes small-scale, practical, hands-on cooperation.
Cooperation with international organisations
Representatives of EUROSAI, the European umbrella organisation for the Supreme Audit Institutions, and INTOSAI, the worldwide organisation, attend meetings of the Contact Committee and are invited to report on their development and future plans. Other examples of cooperation with EUROSAI include joint training events and participation of EUROSAI members in multilateral activities started under the Contact Committee. Moreover, the individual SAIs of the Contact Committee also participate in activities organised by EUROSAI and INTOSAI.
* Article 188c.3 of the EC Treaty stated that "in the Member States the audit shall be carried out in liaison with national audit bodies or, if these do not have the necessary powers, with the competent national departments". This became Article 248.3 following the Treaty of Amsterdam.
** Declaration 18 stated that "the Conference invites the Court of Auditors and the national audit institutions to improve the framework and conditions for cooperation between them, while maintaining the autonomy of each. To that end, the President of the Court of Auditors may set up a contact committee with the chairmen of the national audit institutions".