While the European Union is agonising over how much money it should set aside for its activities over the next seven-year programming period, it is confronted yet again by severe criticisms of the way it controls expenditure of the money at its disposal.

This week's report from the EU's Court of Auditors says the vast majority of the 2004 payments' budget of euro 105 billion was materially affected by errors. At cause are inherently risky transactions, and supervisory systems that fail to limit the risk of irregularity to an adequate level. In particular, the legality and regularity of underlying transactions in payments for agriculture, structural measures, internal policies and external action are questioned.

For example, post-payment checks do not provide reasonable assurance that more than a third of farm subsidies complied with EU legislation, and expenditure under this heading is still subject to significant error. In structural measures, which accounted for about a third of total EU spending last year, the Court found weaknesses in the member states' management and control systems - continuing a twenty-year pattern of errors. Similar control deficiencies and incidences of error are revealed in both the internal policies and external actions of the EU.

Do the math. That's more than euro 14 billion on agriculture in 2004 alone. It's a large proportion of the euro 34.2...

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