Members of the European Parliament are stepping up the pressure on Commission and Council to clean up the EU's cohesion policy.
This week in Strasbourg MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a report demanding better control mechanisms, simpler financial instruments and easier access to funds for small and medium sized businesses. Structural and cohesion funding is at the core of EU policy to reduce disparities of income, wealth and opportunities between Europe's regions.
Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder, who sits on the parliamentary committee that oversees these funds, said, "Even though reports show that cohesion funds have weak control systems, complicated application processes and ineffective policy outcomes, the Commission and Member States just point the finger at each other rather than try to tackle these issues."
"In order to achieve an effective and efficient cohesion policy, we need a simpler framework for the Funds, a single audit model at all levels, the full involvement of regional and local authorities on EU legislation and programmes benefiting from the Structural Funds, and the simplification of financial instruments to make funds more accessible to SMEs."
The 2009 European Court of Auditors report on the EU budget highlighted consistent error and irregularities in cohesion funding. Mrs Bearder criticised the lack of action to get to grips with this problem, adding, "It is an absolute disgrace that funds for an area as important as cohesion policy consistently fail to be accounted for."
"The previous Labour Government handled the UK's allocation of EU cohesion funds so badly, that the UK is among the worst five EU member states at accounting for the way they spend the EU structural funds and faces having to pay back millions of pounds.
"The Coalition Government must not repeat the mistakes of the Labour Government, and must ensure that EU money allocated to the UK is spent properly on eligible projects and accounted for in a transparent way."