Follow the money

Series Title
Series Details Vol 7, No.17, 26.4.01, p11 (editorial)
Publication Date 26/04/2001
Content Type

Date: 26/04/01

THE European Union currently spends almost €10 billion a year on foreign aid. Some 150 countries around the globe are beneficiaries of what, in anyone's book, is a massive programme.

Of that total, €5.3 billion comes directly out of the European Commission coffers; the remainder is sourced from the European development fund. But let's not split hairs - at the end of the day it all comes from the taxpayer.

The Commission has long-established systems designed to ensure that the money goes where it is intended. But a number of recent cases have posed question marks over the effectiveness of those systems.

Earlier this month a UK television documentary team uncovered evidence of poorly-executed aid ventures in Paraguay.

And this week European Voice highlights two more examples of possible mis-spending of EU money. In both cases the Commission has been quick to respond.

It says allegations that its money has been used to pay for anti-Semitic textbooks in Palestinian schools are unfounded. Yet some MEPs, notably the chairman of the Parliament's foreign affairs committee, are not convinced.

The Commission immediately suspended its pre-accession aid programme to Slovakia following accusations of massive fraud centred on its office in Bratislava

These are serious allegations and MEPs are right to demand the most thorough examination of the facts. They may be concerned that the EU executive has perhaps been a little too quick to respond to the claims.

Given the scale of the Union's foreign aid programme, it is not realistic to expect every single euro to be accounted for.

However the Commission cannot afford to be complacent - or be perceived as being so - when it comes to checking how its money is spent.

No system is water-tight but most are open to improvement.

The Commission must be able to reassure the public that its auditing methods are subject to the most rigorous - and regular - examination.

And, in the spirit of the Swedish presidency, they must be transparent about it.

President George W. Bush seems intent on throwing down the gauntlet to the EU. The planned Free Trade Area of the Americas accord signed last weekend in Quebec can be seen as nothing less.

Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy predicts that the five South American countries negotiating a separate free trade agreement with the Union will use the FTAA to gain extra concessions.

Let them. And while they're at it, perhaps the EU should look at tying up a free trade deal with Japan. Now that would up the ante with 'Dubya'.

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