•Earlier this week, the European Parliament voted to push through an inflation-busting budget rise of almost 7 percent for 2013 – an extra £886 million picked from the pockets of an increasingly eurosceptic British public.
These are austere times for all of us. People are queuing at soup kitchens across Greece, Spain, and Portugal, and shocking, record numbers of young people are out of work. But for Brussels, the good times just keep on rolling.
Its money grab didn’t stop there. One of the best, if depressing, truisms in politics emerged during the spin-laden Blair years: There are good days to bury bad news. On the same day as the vote, the European Commission sneaked through a request for an extra £4.8 billion to fill the shortfall in the 2012 budget.
In February this year, the Commission claimed the 2011 budget had a shortfall of £9bn. By April, that had been revised to a surplus of £1.2bn. Both these figures were given between two and four months after the close of the 2011 accounts when you would expect them to have accurate, definitive figures. It’s accounting, but not as we know it.
Forgive me for my scepticism but I have a better idea than most about what happens to your cash after it’s been handed over to Brussels.
I used to be the European Commission’s chief accountant and I followed the money through non-existent lemon groves, past herds of imaginary cows, and along roads that had never been built. I was expected to turn a blind eye to accounts in which the opening balance bore no relation to the closing balance of the previous year.
It was more Godfather than good accounting and it’s no surprise that, as a result, the European Union’s books have never been signed off. Eighteen years and counting and the auditors are still saying 'must try harder'.
'Fraud' is not a word that's bandied about in the committee rooms of the European Parliament. These anomalies are politely referred to as simple 'errors'. In 2011, these errors amounted to £1.3bn and an estimated 1 euro in 5 is alleged to disappear into the back pocket of a corrupt official.
The worst offender is the cohesion fund - money for Europe’s poorest regions that’s supposed to boost growth and reduce inequalities across the Continent. It swallows up more than one third of the EU budget and it’s the key reason why the EU is asking for extra money in the first place.
Unelected Eurocrats think that funding major infrastructure projects like new motorways in Spain and bridges in Bulgaria will help pull the whole of Europe out of recession. Indeed, nearly all the 7 percent budget increase will be spent on “large rises on road and other infrastructure in southern and eastern Europe”.
It’s a flawed strategy. Money is given to countries to spend pretty much as they wish and there are no proper checks in place to ensure it’s being used properly or even whether the promised projects are actually being built. About two-thirds of EU ‘errors’ concerns just six countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Italy, Poland, and Spain.
Greece, alone, has received around 60 billion euros from the cohesion fund in the last decade. It didn’t do much for its economy - or its roads. Greek motorways have more in common with Dorothy’s yellow brick road than a modern German Autobahn.
Top of the financial ‘errors’ table is Italy that's had 80 billion euros from the fund. Earlier this month, it was revealed the mafia stole £307 million of the EU's money that had been earmarked to improve the A3 motorway south of Naples.
The EU does have an anti-fraud arm called OLAF but it has proved to be completely ineffectual. It has fewer than twenty investigators dedicated to cohesion funds and it is forced to cherry-pick cases. OLAF does not have the power to prosecute and reporting ‘errors’ falls upon the shoulders of member states.
Italy’s debt currently stands at around £1.5 trillion. As money gets tighter, the less willing they will be to report fraud. This is not me scaremongering. After the Italian motorway fiasco, Giovanni Kessler, the head of OLAF, said: “The decrease of information from public authorities is something which is worrying us.”
If you are wondering why I didn’t do anything about this when I was chief accountant – I did. But I came under huge pressure to conceal the truth. I turned whistle-blower and my principles cost me my job.
The prime minister thinks he’s standing by his principles when he talks about vetoing any budget rise. He thinks he’s got guts when he talks about a freeze.
If Mr Cameron had real backbone, he would tell his friends across the channel that there will be no extra money, in fact, there will be a lot less. He'd tell them to balance the books or we will keep reducing our money every year until they do.
Let’s not give the mafia another opportunity to crack open the prosecco. The money should be spent at home to bring some much-needed cheer to the British taxpayer.
Marta Andreasen is a Member of the European Parliament for United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) The Commentator