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de Brún concern over accountability and impact of EU threat to disallow millions

11 November, 2008 - by Martina Anderson MEP

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has said that the European Commission will demand back millions from member states this year including some £42 million spent on projects in the North of Ireland because of overpayments and a lack of paperwork.

Ms de Brún said:

"For the first time in fourteen years the European Court of Auditors has given its approval to the European Commission's accounts for 2004-2006.

"However, the Auditors also identified some €6 billion across Europe which has not been fully accounted for. As a result the European Commission will seek to disallow significant amounts from member states. In the North this includes some £42 million spent through the various regional and social funds.

"This will impact on a number of areas and most probably on the allocation of EU funds by the Executive in the future. It is clear that Ministers, including the Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew will fight tooth and nail through the conciliation process to retain as much of this as possible even though the decisions that have been queried were not made on her watch.

"Danuta Huebner, the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, has said that her department recouped €843 million in irregular payments this year.

"It is essential that Europe demonstrates value for money. However, it is also essential that we do not lose sight to the great benefits that we have seen in across Ireland as a result of EU funding. In the long run we need to increase accountability but also maintain spending on key areas such as agriculture, rural development and tackling poverty by investing in people's skills, infrastructure modernisation, innovation and the environment.

"The Auditors identified a key area of concern, namely the €42bn cohesion budget, covering regional policy, social affairs and rural development; and errors in at least 11% of its spending. This does not mean that we need to spend less money in these areas. It means that we need to do more to make the whole process of application, monitoring and accountability simpler and stronger and give more support to those spending this money to ensure compliance with accountability procedures." ENDS

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