Analysing and assessing the 2015 EU budget


In July, the Commission published a set of accountability reports to inform on the 2015 EU budget on revenue, expenditure, management and performance. What is it about?

For the first time, in July the European Commission published a set of accountability reports providing detailed information of the 2015 EU budget on revenue, expenditure, management and performance. The Commission specifies that: “the documents put a special emphasis on performance, thus making a big step forward in transparency and accountability and achieving one of the concrete outcomes of this Commission’s ‘Budget Focused on Results’ initiative”.

This paper does not intend to present the documents mentioned above, that could be found here. Rather, it aims to verify whether the complex of documents replies to the exigency of accountability in the meaning of arelationship between an actor and a forum in which the actor has an obligation to explain or to justify her conduct the forum can pose questions and pass judgement and the actor may face consequences (M. Bovens).

Analysing and assessing the 2015 EU budget

The analysis requires to investigate a conceptual question: what is meant by accountability ?

Specialist literature argues that the concept of accountability covers various other distinct concepts, such as transparency, equity, democracy, efficiently, responsiveness, responsibility and integrity. Nevertheless, each of them is not sufficient to describe accountability as the referred meaning.

In this article, we will investigate the subjects involved, the object (the matter) and the accountability relations.

The subjects

It is the responsibility of the Commission’s Accounting Officer to prepare the EU’s consolidated annual accounts. Then, the EU’s annual accounts and resource management are audited  by the European Court of Auditors, its external auditor, which as part of its activities draws up for the European Parliament and the Council.

No later than 15 June every year, the Commission sends to the European Parliament and the Council a summary of the annual activity reports for the preceding year. The annual activity report of each authorising officer by delegation shall also be made available to the European Parliament and the Council.

As a third step of the budget process, after the two already mentioned, there is the discharge of the budget for a given financial year. The discharge represents the political aspect of the external control of budget implementation. It is the decision by which the European Parliament, acting on a Council recommendation, releases the Commission (and other EU bodies) from its responsibility for the management of a given budget by marking the end of that budget’s existence. In brief, the actor explains and justifies its own conduct.

As a consequnce, this discharge procedure  may produce three outcomes: 1) the granting; 2) postponement 3) or the refusal of the discharge.

The Council discharge recommendations are adopted by ECOFIN. Both, the European Parliament discharge report as well as the Council discharge recommendations are subject to an annual follow up report in which the Commission outlines the concrete actions it has taken to implement the recommendations made.

The EU budget’s focus is more on ex-post facto processes in governance that on ex ante inputs, even if most of the ex-ante inputs in governance validate the action of European actor involved.

The object

The 2015 EU budget reports are composed by a set of report.

They consist of: the 2015 Annual Management and Performance Report that provides detailed information on the results achieved by the EU budget and how it is managed;  the Financial Report 2015 gives a full overview of the sources of EU revenue and the allocation of funds to Member States;  the Communication on the Protection of the EU budget 2015 describes the actions taken by the European Commission and Member States to ensure the proper use of taxpayers’ money; the EU Annual Accounts 2015 contains financial information on the activities of the institutions, agencies and other bodies of the EU.

This information helps us to investigate the various Institutions involved. We verify the higher number of Institutions: 11 Institutions and consultative bodies; 39 Agencies; 2 of other controlled entities;  7 Joint Ventures and 1 Associative.

The accountability relations

The question is: how can we classify the accountability relations between all the Institutions? Is it possible?

The matter is particularly relevant and involves the level of democracy in Europe – the matter is investigated by E. Fischer.

The specialist literature notes that the assessment of accountability cannot be separated from the vision of European integration.

We observe that the outcome of the Brexit Referendum, held on 23 June, has increased uncertainty. In this contest, the European Commission efforts to improve the overview of how the EU budget is supporting the Union’s political priorities have to be appreciated, but we note the difficulty to classify the accountability relations between all the Institutions involved with prejudice to democracy.

The question has long time: the European Institution form a federal system, it is an intergovernmental arena or a sui generis case?

Alessandra Villa

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