BRUSSELS, Oct 13 (Reuters) – More than 5 billion euros ($4.85 billion) of European Union funds were misspent last year, the bloc’s auditors said on Thursday, as national authorities often made mistakes in allocating the money while cases of suspect fraud increased.
In its annual report, the European Court of Auditors (ECA), which is responsible for assessing the EU budget, estimated that an average of 3% of last year’s 181.5-billion-euro spending was irregular, up from 2.7% the previous year.
“The level of error for high-risk expenditure was pervasive,” auditors said in the report, issuing an “adverse opinion” on the 27-nation bloc’s spending last year.
Auditors pointed out that errors were mostly caused by national authorities’ having trouble with applying complex rules and criteria for the selection of funds’ beneficiaries. That did not represent a measure of fraud or waste of funds, they said.
However, they identified 15 cases of potential fraud, up from six in the previous year’s assessment.
Auditors’ opinions do not lead to immediate consequences, but could spur investigations in suspect fraud and should be used by authorities to improve spending in following years.
National and local authorities in the 27 EU member states are responsible for spending most of the EU money.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascioEditing by Tomasz Janowski)