The European Court of Auditors in 2023: An Overview of Audits, Challenges and Critical Issues from a Conservative Perspective

Legal - May 9, 2024

The European Court of Auditors (ECA), established in 1977, is the European Union’s supreme audit institution. Its role is crucial in ensuring transparency and accountability in the use of EU funds, which are essential elements in maintaining public confidence. The 2023 Annual Report demonstrates the ECA’s strong commitment not only to assessing the effectiveness of EU policies but also to promoting better financial management, highlighting unprecedented challenges and progress in various areas.

Assessing EU financial management

According to the report, the ECA carried out rigorous audits of the regularity of the EU’s financial operations, focusing on the effectiveness with which policies and programmes achieve their strategic objectives. A highlight of 2023 was the assessment of the financial management of the EU budget, including financial initiatives related to NextGenerationEU, the ambitious stimulus package for post-pandemic recovery. Although the budget was generally well managed, the Court raised concerns about spending, pointing to an increase in the error rate to 4.2%, up from 3.0% the previous year.

Field audits and emerging issues

The intensification of on-the-spot audits was a feature of the ECA’s work in 2003, with a significant increase in the number of audit days in Member States and beyond compared to previous years. This increased activity enabled the ECA to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges in the management of EU funds, in particular in relation to the Recovery and Resilience Facility and NextGenerationEU.

Special Reports and Sectoral Analyses.

Special reports published in 2023 addressed critical issues such as the EU’s industrial policy on batteries, climate targets and equal opportunities for people with disabilities. One of these reports highlighted the need for a new strategic impetus in the EU’s battery policy in order to maintain the competitiveness of the automotive sector and achieve climate neutrality targets.

Inter-institutional and international co-operation.

The ECA also strengthened its inter-institutional relations, working closely with other Supreme Audit Institutions around the world to improve audit standards and respond to cross-border threats such as cyber-security. This included participation in conferences and seminars to share knowledge and best practices.

Responding to critical issues and looking forward.

Looking to the future, the Court is preparing for new challenges, in particular the impact of the growing EU budget and the upcoming elections that could change the European political landscape. In the foreword to the report, the President of the Court emphasises the importance of continuously adapting audit strategies to remain at the forefront of public sector audit developments.

The 2023 report of the European Court of Auditors paints a picture of an institution deeply committed to ensuring that EU funds are used effectively and responsibly. Despite the challenges it faces, the Court demonstrates a resilience and willingness that are fundamental to its mission to protect the financial interests of the European Union. However, while the 2023 report of the European Court of Auditors highlights significant efforts and progress in various areas, it also highlights persistent challenges in the financial management of the European Union. From a conservative perspective, as often expressed by the ECR Group (European Conservatives and Reformists) in the European Parliament, it is essential to reflect on these results in order to reaffirm the importance of greater accountability and careful management of public resources.

The growing complexity of the EU budget, highlighted by the increasing error rate in spending, raises crucial questions about how European taxpayers’ money is allocated and monitored. Conservatives emphasise the need for greater transparency and accountability in the EU institutions to ensure that every euro spent truly contributes to the well-being and security of European citizens. The fight against waste and corruption should remain an absolute priority to ensure that public funds are used effectively and in line with citizens’ expectations.

The Court of Auditors, with its tireless commitment to monitoring EU spending, plays a crucial role in ensuring this transparency. However, it is the duty of all European institutions, including the Parliament and the Commission, to respond to these challenges with concrete measures to strengthen financial control and the management of European funds.

Efficiency and financial accountability are not just administrative objectives, they are essential to maintaining citizens’ trust in the European Union and its institutions. As Conservatives, we reaffirm our commitment to promoting governance that prioritises financial prudence and respect for the European taxpayer, fundamental principles for a stronger and more resilient Union.