EU finances riddled with errors, says watchdog

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The Independent Online

An official watchdog will today list a catalogue of weaknesses in accounts covering the European Union's €90bn (£62.5bn) annual budget, in a fresh assault on Europe's much-criticised financial controls.

A report from the EU's Court of Auditors highlights "numerous weaknesses" in financial systems in a document which will be seized on as evidence that the system is too lax to stamp out fraud. For the ninth year running, the court is refusing to certify the EU's annual accounts.

The document says there are "still errors of the same type and with the same frequency as previous years". That is being interpreted by critics of the European Commission as evidence that nothing has improved despite a high-profile series of administrative reforms.

The auditors' refusal to sign off the accounts will increase pressure on the commission, which has been on the defensive over a financial scandal at Eurostat, the EU's Luxembourg-based statistical office. The report does not answer the questions in the Eurostat case, but it casts doubt over the reliability of accounts and the pace of reform.

It says: "As has been the case in the past, the origin of the court's observations lies in the Community accounting system, which was not designed to ensure the assets are fully recorded." Among the poor accounting were failures to record correctly €240m of the EC's €520m contribution to the Galileo satellite navigation project. A commission spokesman said: "We have been pushing forward reform as quickly as doing a thorough jobs allows."