EU institutions must prove worth or face axe, say MEPs

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Series Details Vol.7, No.9, 1.3.01, p7
Publication Date 01/03/2001
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Date: 01/03/01

By John Shelley

TOUGH-talking MEPS have issued an ultimatum to the EU's smaller institutions: prove your worth or face the chop.

As part of the Parliament's annual signing-off of the Union's budget,

Euro-MPs have warned the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions that they must demonstrate they are a worthwhile use of taxpayers' money or accept that they should be dismantled.

MEPs also want proof that the Union's smaller agencies, such as the Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna, are still a worthwhile expense.

"They cost a lot of money, some of them have existed for a long time. We have to be open to the fact that Europe is changing and moving," said Dutch Liberal MEP Lousewies Van der Laan, the Parliament's rapporteur on the 1999 budget discharge for smaller institutions.

"If the original goals are achieved or they lose their raison d'ĂȘtre then they either need to be redefined or the body in question disbanded and the budget used for new priorities."

As part of the 1999 budget discharge van der Laan has written to each of the institutions demanding facts to show their work actually makes a difference. She wants the Economic and Social Committee, a consultative body representing business, trade unions and interest groups, and the Committee of the Regions, made up of local government representatives, to demonstrate how their opinions have helped shape legislation.

She is also asking the Court of Auditors to respond to scathing criticism from the Parliament about its reluctance to put detailed facts and figures in its annual report.

Rather than being a dry accounting exercise MEPs insist the Court must provide specific details, broken down by geographical area, on the extent of accounting mistakes.

Her views on the Luxembourg-based audit team could not be plainer: "The Court of Auditors is an old men's club that needs to feel the winds of change," she says.

A spokeswoman for the Committee of the Regions said the institution would do its best to answer the questions but that as it is not a legislative body it is tough to assess the exact impact of its work.

"It's very difficult to answer in a concrete way," she said. "The European Parliament is a consultative body as well. Could they really judge the impact of all the opinions that they write?"

Van der Laan says a re-evaluation of what the EU spends its money on should play as much a part of the annual budget discharge procedure as does MEPs normal scrutiny of the quality of the accounts.

"I think the discharge procedure fails a bit," she said. "It shouldn't just be about discovering a bit of butter missing there or a bit of fraud here. At the end of the day what voters want is not just that we uncover a few receipts missing, they want us to look at the effectiveness of the expenditure."

Any decision on dismantling an EU institution would ultimately have to be made by member states.

Tough talking MEPs have issued an ultimatum to the EU's smaller institutions: prove your worth or face the chop.

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