Svetoslav Apostolov's blog

The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.

Albert Einstein

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it.

Abraham Lincoln

It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.

Thomas Paine

There is hardly any person living in Europe who does not come across names such as European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the European Union, European Central Bank, European Ombudsman, Court of Justice of the European Communities, European Police Office (Europol), European Environment Agency, or European Space Agency at least once a day… Names that govern the lives of the vast majority of European citizens and have a considerable impact on the lives of people around the globe… These are just a few of the numerous European institutions, specialized agencies and bodies (further in the text referred to as “European Institutions”) spread across Europe, which are entrusted with developing the Community’s common legislation at the supranational level “in order to gain a strength and world influence none of [the Member States] could have on their own” and with “uphold[ing] the rule of European law” (Gateway to the European Union). In addition to those come the practically countless Delegations and Offices of the Commission of the European Communities (alias the European Commission) all over the world…

Given the significant taxpayers’ contribution to the revenue of administrative expenses (discussed in detail in Apostolov 2009d), it is of paramount importance to the European taxpayer, who is the sovereign of all European Institutions, to know how cost-effective these institutions are. Knowing this becomes even more important in view of the proposed Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community (hereafter the Treaty of Lisbon) (Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States 2007), which is currently pending ratification by four Member States (the Republic of Ireland, the Czech Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland, for details see Apostolov 2009c) and which:

1) provides for the establishment of new European Institutions (e.g. a European External Action Service, a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, a new European police service and a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps), which, in turn, will result in even more administrative costs to be covered from taxpayers money (EUR-Lex Budget online, see also the respective part of Heaton-Harris’ analysis of the 2009 budget of the European Communities). This research does not deem the proposed by the Treaty institutions of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and of the President of the European Union as “new” institutions as they result from the transformation of already existing posts; it should be noted though that the transformation will give new powers to these posts (Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States 2007; for digests see Open Europe 2008a, Wikipedia);

2) broadens the powers of the existing European Institutions (Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States 2007; for digests see Open Europe 2008a, 2008b).

The research is limited by the following conditions:

the European Institutions are studied on the example of selected institutions, namely the European Parliament, the Commission of the European Communities (two of the three major legislative institutions of the European Community) and the European Ombudsman (who investigates complaints about maladministration by European Institutions);

selected aspects of their efficiency were studied, i.e. financial management, satisfaction of the citizens addressing these institutions, objectivity in communication with the public;

the latest ten years of the history of the European Communities are covered by the research;

although this paper is based on a research applying scientific approaches and methods, in view of the target audience (namely the broad public), an attempt is made to keep the report’s style and language as close to the living language as possible without compromising its quality.

It is expected that the outcomes of the study will not only provide valuable information on the effectiveness of the European Institutions and will foster a public debate on the need for improvement of the cost-effectiveness of taxpayers’ money management and optimization of the institutions of the European Communities but will also help increase democracy in the Community and will prove a useful tool helping Europeans have their voice heard directly at the Community level in the forthcoming second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (Referendum Commission: Lisbon Treaty 2009 web site).

The research revealed two major types of misuse that rule the financial affairs of the European Institutions – fraud and mismanagement. The following sections elaborate on these misuses.

A. Mismanagement

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government.

Milton Friedman

This type, in turn, can be divided into three sub-types: (i) duplication of structures and/or functions, (ii) irresponsible and/or incompetent management and (iii) institutions whose services provide little or no value for the taxpayers’ cash.

I. Duplication of structures and/or functions

This group includes European Institutions with duplicating structures and/or functions (Apostolov 2009a), duplicate research (EurActiv 2009a) and research funded by European Institutions but ignored in their policy- and decision-making process (OUT-LAW 2008), which results in wasting of hundred millions of euro per year (with some sources citing figures even in the billion range (EurActiv 2009a)).

The Council of Europe (established in 1949) and the European Community (founded in 1957 with the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community) are a typical case of European Institution with duplicating functions. Table 2 presents an overview of the most important aspects of the two entities.

Table 2. Comparison between the most important aspects of the Council of Europe and the European Community.

Council of Europe

European Community

Goal

a. The aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.

b. This aim shall be pursued through the organs of the Council by discussion of questions of common concern and by agreements and common action in economic, social, cultural, scientific, legal and administrative matters and in the maintenance and further realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

c. Participation in the Council of Europe shall not affect the collaboration of its members in the work of the United Nations and of other international organisations or unions to which they are parties.

d. Matters relating to national defence do not fall within the scope of the Council of Europe.

(Article 1 of the Statute of the Council of Europe).

The Community shall have as its task, by establishing a common market and progressively approximating the economic policies of Member States, to promote throughout the Community a harmonious development of economic activities, a continuous and balanced expansion, an increase in stability, an accelerated raising of the standard of living and closer relations between the States belonging to it.

(Article 2 of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community).

Organs (institutions)

1. Parliamentary Assembly.

2. Committee of Ministers.

1. European Parliament.

2. Council.

3. Commission.

4. Court of Justice.

5. Court of Auditors.

Europe Day

5 May (declared by the Committee of Ministers in 1964).

9 May (declared by the European Council in 1985).

Budget 2009

286 495 100 EUR (Council of Europe’s web site).

116 096 062 329 EUR (EUR-Lex Budget online).

Similar to this misuse type is the case of a European Institution which duplicates its functions in two locations as described in the next section.

As far as research-related mismanagement is concerned, Strauss (EurActiv 2009a) quotes investing in “new” research projects which have already been done by other European scientists as another example for duplication resulting in waste of taxpayers’ money. Hugenholtz (OUT-LAW 2008), in turn, refers to independent academic studies commissioned and paid for by the European Commission which, nevertheless, were not used by the Commission in the course of its respective policy formulation.

Certainly, dealing with this mismanagement type provides an important opportunity to optimize European cooperation and integration; therefore further intensive studies are required to establish with greater confidence the potential for savings and to develop concrete proposals for actions.

Having highlighted the problem of duplication, the next section will present the issue of irresponsible and/or incompetent management of the taxpayers’ money by the European Institutions.

II. Irresponsible and/or incompetent management

Another enormous waste of money is the irresponsible and/or incompetent budget management by the European Institutions. This group includes waste of money resulting from bad decision-making by the institutions and the following measures they take to patch up the situation. It can be divided further into direct and indirect waste of money.

Direct waste of money

As far as figures are concerned, the deepest pits for the European taxpayers’ money are the European Parliament and the Commission of the European Communities. Of these, the Commission is responsible for the implementation of the budget of the European Communities, which has not been approved by the responsible Court of Auditors for the 14th year in a row because of “too high levels of illegality and irregularity in most areas of the budget” (Court of Auditors 2008a, Court of Auditors 2008b; for digests see Waterfield 2008b, Waterfield 2008c, Heaton-Harris). Although the Commission committed itself to ensuring “sound financial management” “of the European Union’s budget” and “protecting the taxpayer’s interests” as early as 2004, and respective regulations were adopted in 2005 (European Commission 2006), in 2008 the Court of Auditor still found that “cohesion policies, representing more than a third of the budget, are the area most affected by errors”, where “at least 11% of the value of reimbursed cost claims should not have been paid out” (Court of Auditors 2008b).

In addition to the findings in the annual report on the financial year 2007, other baffling examples of the irresponsible and/or incompetent management of the taxpayers’ money by the European Institutions, resulting in losses of tens of millions of euro that could have been avoided, are revealed in the Court’s Special Report No 2/2007 concerning the Institutions’ expenditure on buildings (Court of Auditors 2007; for a digest see Bounds 2007):

1) An annual rent of around 6 million euro was paid by the institutions for an empty building between 1998 and 2004.

2) In 2003, the Commission contracted an implicit interest rate of 5,65% in order to finance the acquisition over 30 years of a building. Had the Commission called for tenders, it would have saved approximately 7,7 million euro on the interest.

3) In May 2004, the Commission signed a 15-year usufruct contract for one of the buildings that it occupied, including a yearly payment of 4,8 million euro with indexation. Had the Commission negotiated the purchase of a similar building of this value using, for example, the long-term lease with purchase option widely used by the institutions, the annual instalments could have been set at less than 3,25 million euro.

4) In September 2006, the Parliament acquired the buildings it occupies in Strasbourg for 143 125 million euro without taking any account of the decades of rent previously paid.

The European Parliament is another example of direct waste of Europeans’ money:

a) The shuttling of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) between the Parliament’s two official seats in Brussels and Strasbourg, a 350km trip involving MEPs, armies of assistants, a generous scattering of lobbyists and truck-loads of documents” (Mahony 2008) called the “travelling circus” by Philip Bushill-Matthews, the British Conservative leader in the Parliament (EUbusiness.com 2008), is estimated to cost the taxpayer 200 million euro per year (EurActiv.com 2008a, Oneseat.eu; see also Open Europe 2009a).

b) The seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which was finished in 1999 at the cost of more than 450 million euro (Wikipedia, Oneseat.eu), remains empty for more than 300 days a year (Lasry 2008, EUbusiness.com 2008).

The case of the European Parliament is similar to the institutions with duplicating functions misuse type described in section A.I above.

Indirect waste of money

The Court of Auditors makes further findings in relation to the institution’s financial (mis)management in its Special Reports:

i) in Special Report No 2/2007 on the Institutions’ expenditure on buildings (Court of Auditors 2007), the Court concludes that the aggregation of institutional buildings in one particular area in Brussels (known as “the European Quarter”) has led to a significant increase in the property prices in this area.

ii) in Special Report No 5/2008 on the European Union’s Agencies (Court of Auditors 2008c), the Court concludes that:

The widespread lack of any activity-based budgeting, which is one of the basic instruments needed for management transparency, acted as a serious brake on the introduction of a performance-oriented culture…

The activity reports submitted by the directors were too often merely descriptive. They dealt more with the type and scope of the work than with performance in terms of the objectives achieved.

iii) in its Special Report No 7/2008 on the Intelligent Energy for Europe Programme 2003-2006, the administration of which costed the taxpayer 7,6 million euro in 2005 and 2006 only (Court of Auditors 2008d), the Court states the following:

… the planning of the programme fell short of best practice. The Commission did not … set specific and time related objectives…

The distribution of spending over so many areas of activities necessarily limited the potential to achieve significant and verifiable progress in any particular area. IEE was not a clearly focused expenditure programme.

Monitoring and evaluation procedures did not provide an effective feedback mechanism. The Commission … did not seek to monitor the performance of the programme as a whole.

The Commission was not in a position to assess whether energy agencies made a significant impact, nor to assess whether they improved the coordination of promotion of energy-efficient technology. However changes made in the 2007-2013 programme increased financial support for these bodies.

The Commission was not in a position to assess whether local and regional energy agencies made a significant impact, nor to assess whether they improved the coordination of promotion of energy-efficient technology.

A key weakness of programme evaluation has been that evaluation reports have not been available in time to influence legislative discussions, and have not provided meaningful analysis of the impact of the programme.

The collapse of a part of the hung ceiling in the European Parliament building in Strasbourg in 2008, which gave rise to speculations about construction defects (Lasry 2008, EurActiv.com 2008c), is a typical example of indirect waste of money by patching up the situation.

Another example of misuse is the cited by Traynor (2008) decision of the European Parliament to share 6 million euro of the 2008 budget surplus among the parliament’s seven political groups “for information actions carried out by political groups” at the end of the year, “only weeks before the deadline for the money to be spent”, instead of returning it “to the EU member states and so indirectly to the European taxpayer”.

It can be concluded from the above that this mismanagement type also provides significant saving opportunities; however, in view of the measures proposed by the Court of Auditors to solve a part of the problems, and in view of the broad public debate on these (Oneseat.eu, EurActiv.com 2008a, see also EUbusiness.com 2008, EurActiv.com 2007, Heaton-Harris), they will not be discussed further.

As already outlined, duplicating functions and irresponsible and/or incompetent management of the taxpayers’ money are not the only “sins” of the European Institutions. The next section will present the results of my research indicating that there are institutions that provide little or no value for the taxpayers’ cash.

III. Institutions whose services provide little or no value for the taxpayers’ cash

The research indicated that, in addition to the above well-known mismanagement types, there is another, less known yet significant money pit – European Institutions whose services provide little or no value for the taxpayers’ cash. The institution of the European Ombudsman was selected as the study object for this part of the research based on the findings in the European Parliament’s resolution of 23 April 2009 with observations forming an integral part of its Decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Union general budget for the financial year 2007, Section VIII – European Ombudsman (C6-0423/2008 – 2008/2282(DEC)), which notes that:

… over the period 2003 to 2007, commitment appropriations have steadily increased from EUR 4,4 million to EUR 8,2 million (nearly +86%) and posts from 31 to 57 units (+84%), while complaints have increased from 2 436 to 3 217 (+32%) and new enquiries opened from 253 to 308 (+22%)…

(European Parliament 2009a)

In other words, while the number of open enquiries has increased only by 21,7%, and the incoming complaints have increased by 32,1%, in the reference period the institution’s budget has increased disproportionately by 86,4% (or almost 4 times higher than the increase in open enquiries and 2,7 times higher than the increase in complaints).

Inspired by this observation, the study aims at filling in the identified gap by investigating the European Ombudsman’s complainant satisfaction. Forty-five randomly selected Ombudsman’s decisions for 2006, 2007 and 2008 were studied for the purpose of the research.

The results clearly demonstrate that the outcomes of the Ombudsman’s intervention were not to the complainant’s satisfaction in all 100% of the admitted cases in 2006 and 2008, and only one complainant was satisfied with the Ombudsman’s performance in 2007. In addition, the Ombudsman made five proposals for a friendly solution in the studied period; however, one of these was withdrawn by the Ombudsman, one was partially ignored and one was rejected by the respective institution concerned. Of the remaining two cases, the one complainant rejected the possibility of a friendly solution, which is interpreted here as a manifestation of the complainant’s dissatisfaction with the Ombudsman’s performance, and the other complainant ‘did not … consider the … response [of the institution concerned to the proposal] to be satisfactory’, which is also interpreted as dissatisfaction for the purpose of the research.

Based on these results it can be concluded that:

a) the Ombudsman is ineffective in achieving the objective of satisfying the complainants;

b) no improvement is observed in the studied three-year period.

Considering the fact that the above results were obtained studying representative samples, it can be further concluded that similar distribution and abnormalities will be observed outside the samples. In addition, the legal provisions governing the institution’s performance put the complainant and the Ombudsman under inequitable terms.

Based on the results of the study it can be concluded that one way to improve the cost-effectiveness of taxpayers’ money management in the context of this misuse type will be to abandon the inefficient and ineffective European Institutions and to redirect their financing to efficient ones. For example, abandoning the inefficient Ombudsman’s institution with its inherent deficiencies would have saved the taxpayers 7,4 million euro in 2007 (the institution’s actual spending, Court of Auditors 2008a). Reallocating the Ombudsman’s budget to the Court of Justice of the European Communities, the judgments of which are binding, and extending the mandate of the latter to cover more European Institutions (currently the Court only deals with claims against Community Institutions within the meaning of Article 232 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, i.e. the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, see also the court’s decision in Case T290/08 AJ) would provide more Community citizens with proper access to justice in matters related to the institutions.

Conclusion

The results of the research prove beyond any doubt that handling mismanagement offers significant potential not only for savings but also for optimizing European cooperation and integration. However, further intensive studies are required to develop concrete proposals for actions.

Having discussed the three most common mismanagement types, in the next section the report will present the cases of fraud and corruption in the European Institutions.

B. Corruption and Fraud

Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today.

Mahatma Gandhi

As already highlighted, the European Institutions do not limit themselves to the above-mentioned incompetent and improper management of the taxpayers’ money. Instead, corruption and fraud seem to be a common practice in many of these institutions, and the two of them administering the greatest deal of the European citizens’ taxes, namely the European Parliament and the Commission of the European Communities, are most often criticized as fraudulent and corrupted (Anonymous (1999), BBC 1999, Middlehoek et al. 1999a, Middlehoek et al. 1999b, Butler 2002, Bilefsky 2007a, Bilefsky 2007b, Charter and Boyes 2007, Stute 2007, Charter 2008a, Charter 2008b, Charter 2008c, Charter 2008d, Charter 2008e, Laursen 2008, van Buitenen 2008, Waterfield 2008a; see also Court of Auditors 2008b). However, other European Institutions are not immune to this misuse, and there are concerns about the integrity even of institutions like the Court of Auditors, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and Eurojust (Watt 2002, Watt 2003, BBC 2003: video available, EurActiv.com 2003, Stute 2007, Pop 2009) which are responsible for investigation and exposure of corruption and fraud, and for fighting against crime, including in the European Institutions.

An example of the fraud spreading across the European Institutions is provided by a 2008 internal audit report on the parliamentary assistance allowances. Some of the grave misuses described in the report summary are:

1. Payment of full allowance to a service provider with only one accredited assistant,

2. Payment of full allowance to a service provider with no accredited assistants,

3. Payment of allowance to a company with no activity shown in annual accounts,

4. Payment of allowance to service provider with irrelevant activities (2 cases). In the first case the service provider’s area of business was the provision of child care. In the second case, the business appeared to be the trading of wood.

Ten [‘lay-off’] payments were made in breach of the [Rules governing the Payment of Expenses and Allowances to Members] as they continued to be under contract of an MEP who was still in office.

One assistant received during the lay-off period of 3 months an accumulated monthly salary of €8,890. He accumulated lay-off payments from 5 MEPs, continuing payments from 3 re-elected MEPs and payments from 4 newly elected MEPs, thus receiving at the same time part-time payments from 12 (former) MEPs during three months.

In two other cases the MEPs raised the salary of two assistants with 71% and 117% during the lay-off period, in order to exhaust the balance available.

… 16 payments resulted in using up the balance of the available allowances for the MEPs concerned. For 18 … payments, no justifying documentation was found for the payments. In five cases the amounts paid varied between 3x and 19x the amount of their normal monthly salary. In one case this payment was made, without tax or social security deduction, to a bank account in a country that was not the country of residence or place of work of the assistance.

Out of 75 individual payments relating to fees to service providers for parliamentary assistance, only 11 invoices had been received within the required 6 months and none of these contained the minimum required details to represent a valid invoice.

In one case the audit found that the organisation that was acting as a service provider was fully owned by the (former) Member who received the services. The company does not appear to conduct regular business, is established in another country than his place of residence and not mentioned in his declaration of financial interests.

[A] Member contracted two individuals for assistance. The task descriptions were very vague and there was no evidence of a self employed status of these individuals. The Member appeared to be a director of a consultancy company in investments and the two contracted individuals appeared to be senior managers in that same company.

Another Member contracted an individual with the same name of that of his wife. His wife’s professional activity appeared not to be one of a self-employed service provider_

In three cases the payments to the service providers were made to bank accounts that belonged to the Member.

(van Buitenen 2008)

It should be noted that the auditor found that “… there is often no proportionality between the tasks performed and the remuneration received by a parliamentary assistant” (van Buitenen 2008), which is consistent with the findings described in Apostolov (2009d) and in section A.III above.

The European Parliament has replied to some of the above findings that:

… retroactive correction and clarification was not possible as a legal basis was lacking in the rules. Also [the Rules governing the Payment of Expenses and Allowances to Members] do not foresee a limit to the individual parliamentary allowance, other than the annual ceiling per MEP (now €185,952).

… the Parliament’s Financial Regulation does not provide a legal basis to limit the amounts of “one-off” payments.

(van Buitenen 2008)

In February 2009 the European Parliament issued a controversial press release stating that:

… 99.5 per cent of the payments made by Parliament to Members’ assistants in years 2004-2007 under the rules governing parliamentary expenses and allowances has now been cleared as regular based on extensive checks of the relevant documentation.

These checks have been carried out by Parliament’s services for all Members, whether or not they have been subject of reporting in the media and whether or not payments made to their assistants were mentioned in the Internal Audit Report. The checking of the payments relating to parliamentary assistance made in 2008 is currently ongoing.

(European Parliament 2009c)

Further to the above, in February 2009 the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control adopted a report recommending that the Parliament grant its President discharge in respect of the implementation of the European Parliament’s budget for the financial year 2007 (European Parliament 2009d). Information on the outcomes of the checking of the 2008 parliamentary assistance payments was still not available from the European Parliament at the time of preparation of this publication.

A look into the data shows that the misuse of parliamentary assistants expenditure can potentially cost the taxpayers over 185 million euro (about 11,4%) of the European Parliament’s budget for 2009 (EUR-Lex Budget online). In that relation it must be noted that the newly elected European Parliament claims to have taken measures to deal with the described problems (European Parliament 2009b).

In view of the heated debate about this misuse (Anonymous (1999), BBC 1999, Meijer 2001a, Meijer 2001b, Meijer 2001c, Butler 2002, Castle 2002, Heaton-Harris 2002, Martin 2002a, Martin 2002b, Watt 2002, Wright 2003 in reply to Watt 2002, Watt 2003 in reply to Wright 2003, BBC 2003, Evans-Pritchard 2003, Heaton-Harris 2003, Martin 2004, Edmondson 2004, European Commission 2006b, Charter and Boyes 2007, Stute 2007, BBC 2008, European Ombudsman 2008, Charter 2008e, EurActiv.com 2008b, Hurst 2008, van Buitenen 2008, Waterfield 2008a) it will not be a subject of further scrutiny in the present paper.

However, the author would like to use this publication as a platform to initiate a public debate on the clear case of conflict of interests that the passing by the European Parliament itself of the act setting out the salaries, pensions and benefits of its Members and their families (European Parliament 2005) (described in detail in Apostolov 2009b) constitutes.

Conclusion

The study reveals high level of corruption and fraud in the European Institutions which results in inappropriate spending of taxpayers’ money (van Buitenen (cited in Edmondson 2004) suggested that the cost of corruption and mismanagement born by Europeans is 27,6% or over a quarter of the budged of the European Union). It also shows the reluctance of some of these institutions to make public their expenditures (Charter 2008e, EurActiv.com 2008b) despite the high public pressure (EurActiv.com 2008b, European Ombudsman 2008, Hurst 2008). Based on these results it can be concluded that addressing the issue of corruption and fraud will not only help improve accountability and transparency of the European Institutions but also restore democracy at the European level. Therefore, this paper calls for full transparency and accountability of the spending of public servants employed at the European Institutions and for full responsibility for misuse of the taxpayers’ money.

This report presented the major types of taxpayers’ money misuse and democratic backsliding by the European Institutions, and illustrated these with real-life examples (the curious reader can refer to the results of Open Europe’s (2008c) study revealing 100 examples of fraud and waste for more astounding cases of misuse at all levels throughout Europe). The discussion suggests significant potential for improving the efficiency and transparency of the European Institutions, for restoration of democracy and for optimization of European cooperation and integration. The report also outlines the need for further studies to establish with greater confidence the potential for savings and to develop concrete proposals for actions.

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