The Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency was the only EU agency whose management of EU funds in 2011 was not approved by the Budgetary Control Committee on Tuesday. In other votes, the European Commission and other EU institutions and agencies passed the committee's budget "discharge" test, but the decision on whether to approve the Council of Ministers' bookkeeping was once again postponed.
The decision to postpone granting discharge to the Environment Agency was taken by 14 votes to 13. MEPs who voted against approving its accounts immediately said the decision was due to uncertainties stemming from an ongoing investigation by the EU's anti-fraud agency OLAF of the Environment Agency's tendering procedure.
"There is too much ambiguity...We want to be sure that we don't grant discharge to an agency whose situation is unclear," said Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, FI), after the vote.
Relocating the European Police College
The committee voted in favour of a proposal to relocate the European Police College from the UK to the Netherlands, to enable it to share facilities and services with the Hague-based European Police Office.
"In addition to savings, a merger can create much more authoritative institutions," said Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL), the MEP in charge of agency discharges. "Of course the issue of mergers is sensitive as all the member states want to have their agency. But we should take a broader view at EU level", he added.
MEPs likewise voted to encourage stronger cooperation among the EU's institute for gender equality in Lithuania, the Fundamental Rights Agency in Austria, and the EU's three other agencies dealing with education and training.
Conflicts of interest
The committee called for a strict code of conduct on conflicts of interest to be rigorously applied to the EU agencies' management boards and for their administrative burden to be reduced.
For yet another year, the committee unanimously decided to postpone the Council's discharge. MEPs expressed their hope that mediation by the Council's current Irish Presidency might resolve the disagreement over how Parliament should fulfill its role as the discharge authority for Council accounts.
On Monday, the committee had already approved the 2011 spending for which the Commission was responsible, noting that error rates in were particularly high in spending on rural development (7.7%) and regional policy (6%). The overall error rate rose from 3.7% in 2010 to 3.9% in 2011.
Most errors occur in areas under "shared management", where the EU funds are managed by national or regional authorities, noted MEPs. This spending accounts for 80% of the EU budget.
"These funds are poorly managed and it is unfair to blame the Commission for that, just because on paper it remains formally responsible", said the MEP steering the Commission's budget approval through Parliament, Jens Geier (S&D, DE).
As in previous years, MEPs advocated improving national accountability by introducing national declarations, called for an end to the practice of applying for funding for projects only after they are physically completed, and recommended simplifying national rules applied on top of EU ones wherever possible, to discourage "gold plating".
MEPs also urged the Commission to issue a country-by-country list, publicly showing the financial corrections and recoveries collected and what has been done to improve management and control systems.
European Parliament and other institutions
On Monday the committee also approved 2011 spending by the European Development Fund and administrative spending by the European Parliament.
Parliament as whole will vote on all the committee's discharge recommendations at the April plenary session in Strasbourg.
The European Parliament is the sole discharge authority vetting spending of the EU annual budget and the European Development Fund. At the end of a budget year it may grant, postpone or refuse a discharge, which is required for the formal closure of institutional accounts.
In the chair: Michael Theurer (ALDE, DE)