Control, audit and investigation of fraud with European Structural and Investment Funds – Dichotomy between fraud prevention and swift execution of European funds

Nuno Almeida (Master’s in EU Law at the University of Minho)

The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) made available by the European Union will be the highest ever, a fact that will raise new challenges regarding their control and effectiveness. [i] The European Court of Auditors has already expressed its concern about the inefficiency shown by the management authorities of operational programs in the control of the application of European funds, a fact duly expressed in its Report No. 6/2019, prepared on the basis of the audit of the activity of the managing authorities of Member States at the different procedural stages. Thus, in terms of fraud prevention, detection and combat, there was a small number of identified cases in the 2007-2013 programming period, with fraud detection rates between 0% and 2.1%[ii]. According to the European Court of Auditors, this figure is not representative of the level of fraud identified, as several cases of fraud were detected but not communicated to the competent authorities. As a result, it will be necessary to assess the current capacity of national institutions with control and auditing functions, especially regarding their real effectiveness in detecting irregular or illicit situations, since, as it should be recalled, approximately 80% of European funds are executed by Member States. Furthermore, given the exceptional need for swift execution of European funds, it is important to consider whether the pressure that will be placed on the authorities involved in this plan will inevitably lead to a concentration of all means in the execution area. In fact, it is expected that there will be predetermined levels or objectives for the execution of operational programs, a fundamental factor for the evaluation of the activity of these entities, which may weaken the identification of irregular or illicit situations, that is, a prevalence of execution in relation to prevention, a dichotomy that will require measures from the responsible entities if proven true.

On the national level, on May 21, 2021, Law No. 30/2021 approved special public procurement measures for projects financed or co-financed by European funds, a legislative change arisen from a need for speed in execution and application of European funds made available by the European Union, by simplifying public procurement procedures, as well as from the need to reinforce the fundamental principle of transparency, achieved through the implementation of mandatory electronic disclosure procedures and the reinforcement of the Court of Auditors’ intervention in the oversight of procedures.

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