• With the European Parliament likely to get its 6% budget increase this year - 2.9% as a direct increase, and the remainder by passing a series of amending budgets throughout the year - European taxpayers are being mugged by the political class. Commissioners and parliamentarians alike are rummaging through the pockets of the working man and woman, and helping themselves to the spoils of their labours.
There are some who say that for Europe to work 'properly', it requires the resources to do so, and that even in times of financial austerity and recession, this grand European project must be adequately financed.
Needless to say, I am not one of them. In a previous life, before my election to the European Parliament, I was the European Unions chief accountant: until I decided the time had come to blow the whistle on the scandalous waste of money brought about by poor accounting standards, slipshod regulatory controls and fraud that was in some cases so blatant as to be breath taking. Needless to say, speaking out to stop the gravy train achieved nothing: it still continues to roll onwards. In Europe, blowing the whistle on fraud costs nothing except your job.
And so now, we have the latest report from the Court of Auditors. For the 16th year in a row, they have refused to pass the accounts of the European Union. Of the total budget for 2009 of over €120bn, €110bn was affected by error or fraud: over 92% of all payments.
Some of the errors on these payments are, it is true, small. Against that, many of them are large, and some of the largest are not errors at all, but downright fraud: direct theft from the citizens of Europe. Some of the most glaring - those which were caught - include:
• In Greece, area shown as forest in the Land Parcel Identification System was claimed for as pasture land for the purposes of the Single Payment Scheme, even though trees and rocks could be clearly seen on the aerial photographs.
• In Italy, the same sheep were counted for two different farmers, to meet the minimum stocking density requirement.
• On a research contract, the beneficiary reported 17 person/months of work carried out, but on examination, the amount claimed was the equivalent of 42 person months. Additionally, non project related travel costs had been claimed, resulting in an over claim of 73,000 Euros, 50% of the declared costs.
Of course, the Court of Auditors tries to sugar the pill. They point out how the rate of errors and fraud is lower this year than in previous years. But that is an absurd defence: they are telling you to be happy if you find the wheels missing from your car, because at least the whole car wasn't stolen.
To return to the subject of the EU budget, the cause of such angst among the European Heads of State. The over £7bn the Court of Auditors says is the subject of errors and fraud is almost equal to the amount that the European Parliament wants for a budget increase. To put that the other way around, if the European Institutions had, instead of firing those who complained of fraud and errors, put into place a system which prevented them, there would be no need for a budget increase this year. By failing to take action, the European Union has further cemented in the minds of Europeans that its name is a byword for profligacy, waste and fraud, and is indelibly stamped in the minds of tens of millions of people as such.
The EU's dwindling band of defenders would argue that it needs the budget increase to further its aims, but a brief glance through the European Parliaments budget for 2011 shows such essentials items for European integration as:
• €310,000 for 'social contacts between members of staff'
• €2.6m for subsidising staff canteens - up from €2.3m this year
• €2.05m for 'representation and entertainment' - up from €1.1m this year
These, and others like them, are not essential items: these are the fripperies of power, the junkets and jollies which our elected and unelected European masters see as their 'right'. While European citizens tighten their belts, European politicians with their noses in the taxpayer funded trough are having to loosen theirs.
As a UKIP MEP, of course, I don't wish to give any money to the European Union: if it must exist, it should do so as the majority of British people wish - without Great Britain as a member. One of the reasons this is so is the very same court of auditors report, which outlines the pointless and endemic waste this great European project entails. Outside of the EU, a British government could spend the £52m per day membership fee on domestic projects of direct benefit to British people. After all, that is what they pay their taxes for.