Paul Stephenson writes for the European Court of Auditors journal

With 450 new Members of European Parliament (MEPs), what are the political implications of the new European Parliament (EP) on auditing and scrutinising EU budgetary expenditure?

María-Luisa Sánchez-Barrueco (University of Deusto) and Paul Stephenson (Maastricht University) discuss the role, activities and composition of the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) on pages 69-73 of the recent issue of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) journal.

An overview of the highlights of the special issue can be read here.

Since 1977, following the 1975 Brussels Treaty, the EP has been vested with the power to grant discharge to the Commission, although the final decision is taken upon a non-binding Council recommendation. Armed with its various types of audit reports, the ECA enjoys a privileged audience with these two discharge authorities.

In the EP, the CONT is responsible for holding the managers of the EU budget to political account. Although over two thirds of the EU budget is managed by the Member States, national or regional authorities are not subject to the political dimension of financial accountability: they cannot be questioned by and are not answerable before the EP. CONT’s discharge reports represent the fundamental basis upon which the EP’s plenary takes the decision to grant discharge. In seeking to carry out its core task, CONT draws on various sources of evidence, including witness accounts, data collected via own initiative control missions, and crucially, the ECA’s annual and special reports. When ECA reports are presented to CONT, they are assigned to one or several MEPs for follow-up, leading in most cases to a CONT committee resolution.

Increasingly, ECA special reports and reviews are also presented to other EP Committees. The CONT committee secretariat is fully supported by the EP’s Policy Department D, which is continuously involved in the committee’s work: attending meetings of CONT coordinators and political group advisors; participating in committee delegations; writing and briefings for hearings and country reports for the delegations; and of course, preparing the briefing for the annual CONT visit to the ECA. In addition, the EP’s ‘think-tank’, the European Parliamentary Research Service, plays a role in collecting, digesting and synthesising relevant data sources on behalf of MEPs, providing contributions (briefings) on the individual requests of MEPs.

The CONT’s workload and output has been impressive during the last legislature, as illustrated by the hugely insightful ‘Balance Sheet of Activities during the 8th Legislative Term (July 2014 to June 2019)’. Overall, the Committee adopted 324 reports, 64 opinions and produced 151 working documents, mainly in the context of the discharge procedure. As the reports states (p.3), ‘in analysing the performance of the different spending areas, the Committee continued its fruitful cooperation with the Court of auditors and cooperated increasingly with the specialised committees of the Parliament in charge of the relevant policy areas’. Moreover, ‘the Committee further intensified the interinstitutional cooperation, notably with OLAF’.

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