Lines sent to national and international media following Malta Conference on the refugee crisis 12/11/2015
Increased aid to help solve the refugee crisis does not tackle the fundamental problem of mass population movements from southern Europe to northern Europe.
Richard Ashworth Conservative MEP for South East England reacting to the agreement by heads of state at the Malta Conference to provide over £1 billion in aid to tackle the refugee crisis said:
“It’s now time that we accept we face a crisis not seen in recent times, with potentially millions of refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa into Europe. The agreement by the Prime Minister at the Malta Conference to bolster the EU Africa Trust Fund is one step to alleviate the refugee crisis. We need however a more fundamental solution that will see these population movements from south to north stop, with solutions that will see these people remain in their own countries and not risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean sea.”
For the 21st year the EU Court of Auditors has given the EU’s accounts only a qualified statement of assurance, with the rate of error slightly down on last year’s report.
Conservative budgetary control spokesman in the European Parliament, Richard Ashworth MEP, said that after twenty years of inertia in tackling the problem, wholesale reform of the management of EU spending is long overdue.
Despite giving a clear opinion on the reliability of the accounts themselves, the auditors’ report found that the error level for the 2014 accounts was 4.4 percent, slightly down on last year’s 4.5 percent.
It noted that the level of error had been reduced due to corrective measures taken by both the European Commission and EU Member States, but it particularly identified higher error rates with so-called cost reimbursement schemes (5.5 percent), which see the EU reimbursing costs on the basis of declarations made by beneficiaries, rather than so-called entitlement programmes where payments are made on meeting conditions rather than reimbursing costs.
The European Court of Auditors checks whether the EU and the Member States have spent European money in line with a number of different European laws. Whilst the EU is often criticised for failing to spend its money correctly it is largely the Member States who fail to spend the money correctly and this is due to the complexity of European rules. In order to overcome this, Europe must reduce complexity of its rules.
Speaking after the President of the Court of Auditors presented his report to the parliament’s Budgetary Control committee, Richard Ashworth said: “The error rate is clearly unacceptably high and by 2014 there was clearly a sense of inertia in both EU governments and the European Commission to bring it down.
“The new European Commissioner is determined to bring this error rate down so that we can end this, incorrect, perception that the EU does not have its accounts ‘signed off’, which damages the EU’s credibility so badly.
“The Commissioner also recognises that to bring the error rate down we need to change how we work: we need to cut red tape and make it simpler for local governments, small and medium-sized enterprises and farmers to claim money that they need by legislating appropriately; or, we need to just cut this spending all together.
“The EU will shortly begin a review of its seven year budget framework for which the overriding priority must be delivering value for money by spending money in areas where the evidence tells us to spend it.
“The Court of Auditors can help us in that regard by delivering more performance reports and not just focus on compliance.”
Conservative MEPs have promised to continue calls for a disciplined and restrained EU budget that provides real added value for taxpayers, despite a majority of MEPs voting today for excessive inflation-busting increases.
The parliament has voted for around €4 billion extra in payments and commitments compared to member states’ own estimates for 2016, however these demands are likely to be reduced when talks with EU governments are concluded.
Conservative MEPs voted against the increase and proposed an alternative motion that sets out a series of ideas for a modernised EU budget, focusing on the urgent priorities facing Europe, without constantly adding to the financial burden on member states.
The alternative budget motion would have seen money spent on measures targeted at increasing economic growth in Europe, providing jobs for hardworking people and responding to the migration crisis.
Budget Spokesman and South East MEP Richard Ashworth, who spear-headed efforts for an alternative budget said : “With limited resources the EU budget needs to be more disciplined to focus on those areas where it can really add value.
“We do have major priorities that we should respond to such as the migration crisis or the difficult period in agriculture, but we need better reprioritisation to deliver them.
“This is not the right time for the European Parliament to go back to governments and ask for more money. Instead, we need to take some tough decisions about our priorities.”
Meanwhile the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, Ashley Fox, added: “Yet again it is British Conservatives who are leading demands for a budget that focuses on value for money for hardworking taxpayers.
“We will continue to reject these calls by MEPs for excessive and profligate budgetary increases.
“It is time for the European Parliament to take a reality check, and to develop a budget that clearly focuses on jobs, growth and competitiveness, rather than a wish-list of costly pet projects.”
European Conservatives and Reformists Group shadow rapporteur Richard Ashworth MEP supported the plan, but has made it clear that the swift adoption of the plans must not be at the expense of ensuring the funds are targeted to provide real value on the front line.
The reallocated €801 million includes around €100 million for the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF), €300 million to reinforce the European Neighbourhood Instrument, €200 million for the EU Regional Trust Fund in Syria, €200 million to provide immediate help for the UNHCR and World Food Programme, as well as extra resources for 120 extra staff for agencies such as the FRONTEX border agency, the European Asylum Support Office, and EUROPOL.
The changes do not increase the overall payment appropriations of the EU, as money is taken from other budgetary headings and the so-called ‘Flexibility Instrument’.
Responding to the vote, Mr Ashworth said:
“It is clear that managing the refugee and migrant crisis is going to need resources both at the front line, and in improving standards in Syria’s Neighbourhood.
“I do worry that we have not had enough time to examine these measures and to ensure these extra funds will give the greatest value to European taxpayers. We will be following closely how the money is spent to ensure it focuses on the right priorities.
“We need to get the basics right in responding to this crisis and so ensuring funding is going towards processing, security, integration and basic humanitarian facilities, is a good place to start.”
On Monday 12th October, Richard Ashworth, Conservative MEP for the South East of England backed an amendment to the EU’s budget for 2015 that unlocks a further £593mn (€801.3mn) for measures to tackle the ongoing migration crisis in Europe.
The increase in the budget will be paid for by making cuts and savings to existing programmes totalling £348.5mn (€470.6mn) and by increasing the budget by £244.9mn (€330.7mn).
The money will be used to strengthen Europe’s borders and provide aid to those in camps in Lebannon, Turkey and Jordan.
Richard Ashworth MEP, spokesman on budgets for the Conservatives in the European Parliament said: “Regrettably, a number of countries have failed to live up to their promises to provide money to the United Nations for feeding and housing refugees in camps across the Middle East. The EU has stepped in to help to address the lack of funding.
“Dealing with the migration crisis at source and across Europe will help to alleviate problems in the UK. On top of that, these proposals come at a low cost so they represent good value for money.
“Ultimately, this package shows the value of the EU: Member States coming together, to solve a cross-border problem.”
On news that far-left political party in SYRIZA in Greece has won in a resounding victory sending shock-waves across Europe.
Richard Ashworth Conservative MEP for South East England in a strong warning to the new Greek government said:
“There is no easy way out for the Greek economy and the Greek people. Let’s not forget it is not the fault of the international community that over 30 years consecutive Greek governments have failed to raise or collect taxes. The Greeks should be under no illusion that their debts will simply disappear because Mr Tsipras is Prime Minister. I am afraid Greece has chosen to go out of the frying pan into the fire.”
Conservative MEPs today opposed a compromise budget package for the European Union.
A majority of MEPs ultimately supported the series of amending budgets for 2014, along with a package of spending and commitments for 2015, but the UK’s Conservative MEPs spoke and voted against.
The revised figures and supporting statements were arrived at during a round of urgent negotiation between the European Parliament and EU Council after initial talks ended in deadlock earlier this month.
Richard Ashworth MEP, Conservative spokesman on budgets, said the agreement represented some progress, but had dodged key challenges.
The South East MEP said: “In terms of figures, this budget is a step in the right direction with a renewed focus on jobs and growth that reflects the political guidelines of the new Commission.
“The figures fall below the initial Commission proposal and far below what Parliament was demanding. However it is simply a straight compromise between the Parliament and Council.
“The deal offers little concrete in terms of addressing outstanding budgetary issues including the payments crisis.
“More needs to be done in terms of making unpalatable decisions about where we cut the budget. The process needs to deliver better value for money and to better reflect the budgetary restraint being taken by member states.”
However, Mr Ashworth said simply criticising the budget would not be helpful.
With this in mind he put forward a platform of proposed structural reform to improve the whole budget process and enhance accountability.
1. More and better scrutiny by the Parliament, accompanied by better monitoring of outcomes.
2. An Office for Budgetary Responsibility to examine both the viability of spending plans and their likely success.
3. Closer engagement in the budget process of member states – where 80 per cent of EU spending actually takes place.
Mr Ashworth said: “Instead of the Parliament always asking for more money, we need to work on finding longer-term solutions. This should let both the Parliament and the member states regain control of the budget – to ensure more bang for our buck.”
The following was published by Euractiv.com 2/12/14
You will not find many people in Brussels arguing that the EU’s budgetary procedure works well. The latest collapse of talks between the parliament and council on the 2015 budget highlight the need for reform, writes Richard Ashworth.
Richard Ashworth is a member of the Budgets committee from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, and UK Conservative budgets spokesman.
EU governments have justifiably applied downward pressure on EU spending to reflect the realities of national belt-tightening. Against this backdrop, they will strongly resist any significant European budgetary increases for the foreseeable future.
However, in recent years the spending commitments entered into by the EU are far outweighing the payments on hand to meet them. The EU does not have enough money to pay off its credit card and, as the EU cannot legally run a deficit, we have come to an impasse.
As a Member of the Parliament’s Budgets committee, I will not put my name to any budget that continues to leave unpaid bills in the EU. An increase in the budget is not needed. A better budget is needed, with some significant reforms that will enable us to bring this growing payments gap under control.
Firstly, there is the issue of the budgetary priorities. In the US, if all parties fail to reach an agreement on the budget, they fall off a fiscal cliff. Something similar could happen in the EU in order to focus our minds. If we fail to find an agreement on the budget then, in order to balance the books, we could see a percentage cut across the board – all headings and all lines. This would see the EU lose muscle as well as fat. Those programmes that promote cross-border economic cooperation, that support research and small businesses, would suffer the same fate as more wasteful lines. This would be a mistake that all sides would want to avoid.
The alternative is to look through the budget line by line and find those areas that do not offer good value for money. Often people put this responsibility onto the European Commission, but I believe we as MEPs have a much greater role to play here. Our role is (or at least should be) not only to argue over macro figures and grand headings, but to summon Commissioners and challenge them to prove the efficacy of spending in their departments. The European Parliament too often sees itself in league with the Commission in the pursuit of a bigger budget, but it needs a culture change to see itself as the chief scrutiny body of the Commission’s spending. Before agreement on the last Multiannual Financial Framework, the parliament convened the ‘SURE’ committee into policy challenges and long-term budgeting. Unfortunately, this committee’s work started with the premise that the EU’s budget would increase, and therefore made little effort to focus on reprioritisation. It was a missed opportunity and we should reconsider reconstituting the committee with a new focus: how to achieve better value with fewer resources.
In its Annual Report released earlier this month, the European Court of Auditors made it clear that a culture change is needed in all EU institutions. We should heed their advice. It is time we make some hard choices that can no longer be put off because they are too difficult.
The parliament may take some time to instigate this culture change, which is why we also need independent advice on budgetary responsibility. Due to the multiannual nature of European budgets, it has become difficult for the European Commission to keep a strong trace on its commitments, and on whether new commitments can be entered into without payments on hand to sustain them. This is irresponsible budgeting, and the Commission needs to get a grip, otherwise it will rightly face the accusation that it has mortgaged Europe’s future.
A separate independent EU watchdog like the Office of Budgetary Responsibility in the United Kingdom is desperately needed to help them. The OBR was created under the current government to forecast public finances and ensure their long-term sustainability. Since its creation in 2010, it has never been afraid to sound an alarm bell if it believes the government is acting against the long-term interest of the public finances. Such a setup need not create a new EU agency or large structures, as it could be incorporated into the role of the European Court of Auditors. Not only would the Court investigate the regularity of EU payments, but also their efficacy, too.
I fear that many in the parliament and the Commission are satisfied to allow the EU’s budgetary procedures to continue to be dominated by confusion, complexity and confrontation. It gives them an opportunity to make the situation so unsustainable that they reinforce their agenda of more EU Own Resources or direct taxation. This is the wrong answer to the wrong question, because own resources would fail to bring about the culture change of better spending that is desperately needed within the institutions. Instead, we would see the parliament and Commission running wild using people’s money for their pet projects, whilst the Council and taxpayers look on in horror. Fundamentally, the EU is a cooperative working on behalf of, paid by, and answerable to the 28 member states that own it. It is not a superior management body. Yet he who pays the piper gets to call the tune and with own resources that relationship would be overturned irrevocably.
Recent unedifying budgetary quarrels, whether regarding national adjustments, amending budgets, or the annual budget completely undermine confidence in the EU. National governments are not going to allow relentless budget increases, and they will not grant the EU tax-raising powers. More Europe is not the answer. A better Europe is. A smaller budget is appropriate, but it cannot deliver added value in a 21st century world if it continues to support inappropriate 20th century priorities.
It is time we stop this ideological warfare between the EU’s supranational and its intergovernmental institutions, and get on with doing our jobs: delivering a better EU budget that can sustainably drive tangible results for taxpayers for many years to come.
Three weeks of intense negotiation over the European Union’s 2015 budget ended in stalemate on Monday.
No agreement was reached in the three-way negotiations between the EU Parliament, Council and Commission before a midnight deadline passed. The Commission must now come forward with a completely new budget proposal.
Conservative budget spokesman Richard Ashworth MEP said: “It should recalibrate and re-focus the budget.
“What is clear is that the overall budget is not going to get any bigger. That would be entirely wrong given the budgetary restraint being shown by individual countries, including the Conservative-led government in the UK.
“The Parliament cannot and will not agree a budget for 2015 until all issues to do with the 2014 budget have been resolved – including what is to be done about €23 billion-worth of unpaid bills from member states.
“In addition, the current proposals themselves are ill-focused and unsustainable. When a budget has €146 billion in spending commitments but makes less than €142 billion available, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that doesn’t add up.
Mr Ashworth, Conservative MEP for South East England, pointed out that the new Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had made it clear he wanted greater investment in growth and jobs. The failed budget had been drawn up by former Budget Commissioner Janus Lewandowski, but this was an opportunity for his successor Kristalina Giorgieva to put forward her own strategic changes to reflect these priorities.
“We need sensible proposals to cut spending where it is ineffective and allow better investment in areas that will be a catalyst for employment and productivity. If the Commission cannot deliver that by January the Parliament should simply take two per cent of every budget heading – right across the board. That is how urgent matters are.”
For the 20th year in a row the EU’s auditors could today give the bloc’s accounts only a qualified statement of assurance.
The Court of Auditors’ report on the EU’s accounts for 2013, published this morning, shows the estimated error rate, measuring the level of irregularity in the accounts for 2013 payments, at 4.7%. That is almost identical to 2012’s figure of 4.8%.
It notes that the vast majority of EU expenditure – 80 per cent – is conducted by member states. Both the auditors and the new Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva today called for a culture change to tackle the root problem. They stressed the urgent need for member states to take political ownership of the EU funding they spend. They also called for the Commission to exercise greater performance management.
Conservative budget spokesman Richard Ashworth MEP said: “We regret that no progress has been made on this deep-rooted problem. We welcome the determination of the new commissioner and the comments of the Court of Auditors calling for culture change and greater political responsibility from national governments.
“But we would go further. Conservatives say it is high time the European Parliament took a more active role in the scrutiny of expenditure of taxpayers’ money and MEPs held Commissioners more directly to account for how money is spent on their watch.”