It is time to talk about the fifth EU-institution, namely the European Court of Auditors (ECA). “Boring”, “Mathematics”, “I’d rather kill myself” (do not overdo it please). Well, I hear you, so this will be a very short article. Plus it is quite easy to understand. This article will be divided into three parts: first, its history, then its composition and functioning, and finally we will jump to its – very limited but necessary – attributions.
Its creation is the result of the implementation of a funding scheme from the European Communities, which was sanctioned by a decision of the Council in 1971. It has always been an external body (meaning independent), and its funding originally came from a mix of the percentage of the gross national income of the Member States, a percentage of the value-added tax, a percentage of customs duties coming from Third countries and agricultural fees on imported merchandises from Third countries. However, the ECA was only institutionalised as such by the Treaty of Brussels in 1975, and began working as an official institution in 1977. I am going to spare you further details regarding its status, but do note that the ECA as we know it nowadays was modified by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, and then by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, meaning that it took the EU 26 years to give it its definitive form – and it might not be over, who knows?
Along with the Court of Justice of the EU, the ECA is one of the two EU-institutions that are located in Luxemburg. It is composed of 28 members (one per State), appointed by the Council for six-year mandates, renewable once. (On a side note: can you imagine living twelve years in Luxemburg?). They are chosen on the basis of their affiliation to financing control institutions in their home country or because they have “special skills” – finances ninja skills probably. As for the President, s/he is elected by and among the members of the ECA for a renewable mandate of three years. Since September 2016, German Klaus-Leiner Lehne is the President – and I know many of you think that the EU is controlled by Germany, and given the ECA’s attributions it might only reinforce your feeling, but do remember that the ECA is actually independent. In addition, there are about 500 people permanently employed at the CEA (again: a LIFETIME in Luxemburg?).
The members have a few requirements to meet, such as exercising their job independently and in the general interest of the EU – no kidding, these actually are official requirements on the job description. The end of their functions is also considered: decease, end of mandate, voluntary resignation, and compulsory retirement (request from the ECA that duly notes that a member does not work independently anymore). Again: no kidding, there are people who get paid to come up with those obvious requests – and probably not just one. The member in question is then replaced for a length that corresponds to the rest of his/her initial mandate.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the members sit collegially, and the majority of members are needed to rule.
The ECA’s attributions are not so obvious if you base your reasoning on its name: it basically looks after the interests of EU taxpayers by assisting budgetary authorities with the control of the budget execution (if you follow our series on the EU-institutions, it assists the European Parliament in this task; if you do not, you can still read the full article here: https://mieulac.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/the-eu-institutions-the-european-parliament-part-ii/, although that would mean that you are a bad person for not having already read it). The ECA has permanent control over the accounts of the EU: it controls the legality of the expenditures according to what is written in the treaties; it controls the regularity of these expenditures; and it controls the financial management (the very reason why the expenditure exists in the first place, which is called technical supervision or report monitoring). However, unlike its name suggests, the ECA does not have any judicial functions, so why someone decided to call it a court will remain a mystery for mere mortals like us. Finally, it also hands out notices and reports.
There is not much of a conclusion here, so I will just go and watch a couple of episodes of Huevocartoon while having a shooter of tequila. If you do not know it yet – the Youtube series, not the tequila since I am pretty sure you are familiar with it – it is an awesome, Mexican cartoon series made of short episodes in Mexican Spanish!