EU Court of Auditors: 300 billion euros in funding not called


As of: 23.10.2021 4:46 p.m.

According to the EU Court of Auditors, around 300 billion euros in funding are still open. The reasons for this are diverse. Above all, experts criticize the complex bureaucracy required to even submit an application.

By Stephan Ueberbach, ARD-Studio Brussels

The numbers sound huge: According to the European Court of Auditors, a staggering 300 billion euros in funding have not been called up. The mountain is twice the size of an entire annual EU budget. You could say: There’s a lot of money waiting to be picked up.

Stephan Ueberbach
ARD studio Brussels

So do the member states negligently let financial opportunities slip by, instead of nurturing their regions and supporting social projects, which is what the funding pots, which in Brussels bureaucrats are called ERDF or ESF, are actually intended for?

Funding is largely planned

It’s not that easy. This is because the majority of the money is firmly planned, but for various reasons it is not – or: not yet – spent. For example, bills are usually not billed until the swimming pool, sewage treatment plant or wind farm is ready. Sometimes, however, there is also a lack of suitable projects or the prescribed own contributions that the client must bring with them.

So it is obviously not that easy to get the money on the streets, so to speak. A big problem, says Klaus-Heiner Lehne, President of the Court of Auditors. “The funds should have an impact. They should be invested in infrastructure, they should ensure that jobs are created. They should improve living conditions. That is of course only possible if the money is actually used.”

Problems often start with the applications

According to the Court of Auditors, the responsible administrations are often simply overwhelmed. In some member states there is a lack of planning capacity to get the relevant projects off the ground. “In terms of statistics, Finland works most effectively and Italy has the most problems getting the money on the streets. Germany is somewhere in the middle,” says Lehne.

One of the reasons, the President of the Court of Auditors says, is that the German administration tends to be “highly complex”. In other words: there is too much bureaucracy.

But the European regulations are also often a high hurdle. The problems start with the applications, says Green MEP Niklas Nienass. He knows the EU’s funding jungle well and finds the entire process far too complicated. “It has to become simpler and clearer. We need local contacts who help clubs and business associations.”

Municipalities often rely on external consultants

But the bureaucracy also overwhelms many municipalities. Smaller municipalities in particular are often dependent on the support of external consultants who have specialized in the procurement of European funding – and who sell their services at high prices.

The whole process should urgently be detoxified, says Lehne. “At the moment it is often the case that if a small community wants to do something like this and the responsible city inspector is supposed to request such amounts, then he cannot do that at all. Then the consulting company has to commission it, and it costs money.”

Much would be gained if applications and invoices could simply be processed online – which works well in some countries and less well in others. In Germany, for example, it still looks pretty bleak.

Nienass accuses the federal government of blocking

The President of the Court of Auditors knows who is ahead in the EU when it comes to digital administration. “I would say: The Scandinavians almost continuously, the Balts are further, France has caught up massively. I think we have a lot of catching up to do in Germany.”

The green MEP Nienass sees it the same way and accuses the federal government of having blocked better regulations in Brussels. “In the council, Germany has explicitly advocated that there is no obligation for digital applications. In other countries it is simply possible to scan an invoice with the mobile phone and then send it over via the app. This is of course a great simplification for the self-employed and small businesses . “

So the problems are diverse and, as always in the EU, there are no quick solutions in sight. After all: the 300 billion euros on the high edge will not just vanish into thin air. “The money is not gone,” says Lehne. “It then falls back to the European budget. And if it is not spent there, it goes back to the member states. And the finance ministers are of course happy.

New record: EU countries leave 300 billion euros in funding unused

Stephan Ueberbach, ARD Brussels, 23.10.2021 3:48 p.m.


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