The U.K., Netherlands and Sweden refused to sign off the European Union’s operating budget for 2010, saying that cost overruns are unjustified at a time when national governments are having to slash their spending.
The three northern European nations voted against discharging the accounts at a meeting in Brussels today after auditors found the error rate in the 122 billion-euro budget ($132 billion) climbed to 3.7 percent from 3.2 percent. It was the first time Britain refused to approve the accounts.
“In these challenging times, member states should uphold the same high standards for the EU budget as they would for national budgets,” Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and his Swedish and Dutch counterparts, Anders Borg and Jan De Jager, said in a joint statement. “We should remember that national taxpayers stand behind the EU budget, and that’s why we are calling for important and urgent improvements to the quality of EU financial management.”
The EU approved a 2.1 percent increase in spending this year, a smaller rise than in 2011 after governments of the 27- nation bloc insisted on budget restraint to match domestic austerity aimed at tackling the debt crisis. Osborne said the EU budget should remain frozen in real terms in 2013.
This year’s budget is set at 129.1 billion euros, compared with 126.5 billion euros last year. Almost half the EU’s budget goes to agriculture. The other main part of the budget goes to foster development in poorer European regions, which together with agriculture soaks up about four-fifths of the total.
The 2012 budget is the sixth under a multi-year EU spending program that locked in farm spending through 2013. The program fixed total expenditure in 2007-2013 at 864 billion euros, or 1.05 percent of the region’s gross domestic product. National spending in the EU averaged 51 percent of domestic GDP in 2009.
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