Seminar on “Control of structural actions”
Brussels, 10 June 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, representatives of national authorities, the European Court of Auditors and distinguished Members of the European Parliament, good morning and welcome to the seminar on “Control of Structural Actions” which has been organised jointly by the Directorate Generals for Regional Policy and Employment and Social Affairs.
We have subtitled the seminar “Meeting the challenge”. I am sure that I do not need to convince all of you working in managing and certifying authorities that the responsibility for control of structural actions can indeed be challenging. The objective today is twofold. Firstly, it is an opportunity to share our views with you on the key elements which make up an effective and reliable control system. It is essential that we have a common understanding of this. Secondly, we want to discuss ways in which communication at all levels can be strengthened, as this is a vital component of successful partnership on control issues.
The Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament organised last week a very successful hearing focused on control systems for structural actions. Perhaps some of you were there. I know from my collaborators that one of the main themes of the interventions by Member State representatives was the need for a sound balance between the demands of financial management and control, and the tasks of achieving good implementation of the policy. There was a plea for proportionality in relation to the administrative burden and the costs of control functions.
I fully agree on the need to strike the right balance. We are together responsible for one of the most important and successful policies of the European Union. We have the duty to ensure that funds available in the budget are used in accordance with the principles of sound financial management to attain the goals and targets set in the programming process. This means a lot of work in relation to preparing and selecting good operations, and supporting and monitoring their correct implementation. However, the objective we are concentrating on today of making sure that the expenditure of operations is eligible and regular before it is submitted to the Commission for reimbursement is not an entirely distinct and separate one. The measures needed to achieve successful implementation of a programme on the ground will also contribute to the assurance on the regularity of expenditure and vice versa. Both aspects depend upon solid management structures, clear procedures and adequate and well-trained staff.
I believe that the timing of today’s event is good as we are in the overlapping period of the closure of the 2000-2006 programmes and the start up of implementation of the new programmes. We can look forward whilst building on the experience of the past. It is of vital importance for all of us to show that lessons have been learned from the implementation of 2000-2006 programmes, and that the strengthening of the control arrangements for 2007-2013 will deliver results.
In the end, the success will depend on you. Regulations in themselves do not produce low error rates. That is down to the good work of the managing authorities and certifying authorities. You are the pillars of the system. If you carry out your work well, we will have the evidence that our policy can be managed to the satisfaction of the European taxpayer. If not, then all the audits by the audit authorities and the Commission will not produce a satisfactory outcome.
The Commission has done its best to make sure that the new period gets off to a better start than the previous one. The implementing regulation was adopted in December 2006, within 5 months of the Council regulation, and before the start of the period. During 2007 we focused our efforts concerning guidance and training on the audit authorities because of their responsibility for the two initial procedures of presenting an audit strategy and carrying out the compliance assessment. We issued detailed guidance documents and organised training workshops in 25 Member States.
This 2022 we have been able to concentrate on the role of the managing and certifying authorities. The Commission has drafted and discussed with Member States in the Coordination Committee of the Funds (COCOF) new guidance documents on management verifications and on the functions of the certifying authority. The organisation of this seminar is also a key event in this new strategy.
We see this as the beginning and not the end of the process. We have a further 7 2022s of implementation before us, up to the end of 2015. It is essential that we put in place effective networks of communication. Good flows of information on methods, content and expected outputs of controls on structural actions programmes will promote high standards and prevent problems. You need to make sure that all those involved in programme implementation, from beneficiaries up through intermediate bodies to all staff working in your authorities, receive the information and guidance to be able to do their jobs competently. The Commission is helping in this through issuing guidance and providing a self-assessment tool to enable national bodies to see for themselves whether or not they are meeting key control requirements. It also makes sense for authorities from different Member States to be able to share information and good practice through mutual learning arrangements, and the Commission should promote and facilitate this. We have some ideas on how to make information from the Commission widely available and how the Commission can support national training actions that we will present to you today. We look forward to your suggestions during and after the seminar. We will then produce a paper which we will present in the Coordination Committee of the Funds (COCOF) on the follow up of today’s seminar.
Let me thank you for making the effort to come today, and encourage you to participate actively and constructively in the discussions. I am sure that we can indeed meet the challenge, and that Cohesion Policy can become a model for successful shared management.