The European Court of Auditors releases its 2016 Annual Work Programme

Last week the European Court of Auditors released its Work Programme for 2016 (WP). At the same time, President Caldeira presented the document before the European Parliament CONT committee, in charge of the political control over the management of the EU budget (both on the expenditure and revenue sides). Making its audit intentions public (and available to the general audience through the website) is a well-established habit for the ECA, which contributes to a greater transparency (and thus accountability) of the Court’s work.

The adoption of the work programme (WP) follows a bottom-up approach. Although the Court is a collegiate body of 28 auditors, its internal organization features five chambers (four of them deal with specific policy areas with an impact on the EU expenditure and revenue, while CEAD chamber ensures horizontal coordination). The adoption of the WP starts with the drafting and adoption, at the chambers level, of their own contribution to the annual work programme of the Court. The five members of the Court that have been elected as Deans of the chambers have arguably a greater input in this process, given that they table the first proposal in view of the chamber’s draft work programme. The chambers’ contributions then converge in the draft annual WP and is in turn adopted by the Court, acting as a college.

Following the principle of planning, WPs circumscribe the scope of the ECA’s audit activity throughout a one-year timeframe, as stated in Article 30 (2) of the ECA’s rules of procedure: “The Court shall perform its audits in accordance with the aims laid down in its work programme”. Against this backdrop, the WP represent a useful source of information as to the audit activities we can expect this year of the ‘guardians of the European finances’.

Additionally, the WP has an undeniable political value. In 2016, the European Union is facing extraordinary challenges such as the long-lasting economic crisis, the impact of climate change, the massive influx of migrants/refugees across the South-East external borders in 2016, and terrorism. Providing joint solutions that are sustainable and efficient requires, now more than ever, a sound management of the financial resources by both the EU and national administrations. Accordingly, the ECA’s WP may also be interpreted as an institutional commitment to remain vigilant in the areas that matter the EU the most, right now.

President Caldeira highlighted this idea before the European Parliament: it is “essential for the EU to make best use of the limited means at its disposal, both legislative and budgetary. In other words, improving prioritisation and performance are now key issues for the EU, in particular as it reviews its long-term strategy and multi-annual financial framework. The Court’s 2016 Work Programme reflects that reality.”

Finally, here is a personal take on the most interesting priority audit tasks included in WP’2016:

  • Asylum, migration & security: EU’s response to the refugee crisis (I can hardly wait for the outcome); Commission tools to tackle terrorism; EU measures against human trafficking; development cooperation in Africa (focus on regional programmes).
  • Economic & financial governance: the operation of the European Semester after 5 years implementation (the ECA’s proactive stance towards the new instruments of economic governance put in place in the aftermath of the economic crisis is very welcome)
  • Energy and climate strategy: landscape review (hopefully as inspiring as previous exercices carried out by the Court)
  • Internal Market (including digital agenda): EU measures to support the mobility of workers within the EU; progress on the EU financial services Directive; limits to business in the single market; EU co-financed investments in high speed rail lines (do I see state and substate administrations tidying up their drawers?).
  • Mid-term review of Europe 2020: project selection in cohesion policy; basic payment scheme in agriculture.
  • Financial accountability of EU institutions: notably featuring a review of the performance of the European Court of Justice (sorry to disappoint newcomers, this will not regard Opinion 2/13 but the implementation of its own budget).

I guess it is fair to conclude that WP’2016 serves as a good teaser for external observers on the future activity of the Court of Auditors. We await its results.

María-Luisa Sánchez-Barrueco

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