As the new European Commission holds its first session, the EU's auditor has called on the bloc's new executive to seek better value for taxpayers' money as its report on the 2013 accounts estimated that billions of euros may have been misspent. David Pollard reports.
Smiles, handshakes and kisses as the new European Commission meets for the first time. Its agenda may be altogether more sombre. Top of the list: how to boost growth. And: how to be seen to be accountable for billions of EU funds. Up to nine billion euros may have been misspent last year. In a euro zone where nearly one in four young people are out of work, that could be enough to create tens of thousands of new jobs. And it's something that could feed the grumbles of the zone's ever more vocal euro-sceptic parties, says Philippe Gijsels of Fortis Bank. SOUNDBITE (English) Philippe Gijsels, Chief Strategy Officer, Fortis Bank: ''There is clearly pressure on the Commission and on the euro zone in general because indeed you have a lot of countries seeing parties that do not like Europe winning some market share, so that's an important issue.'' The figures come from the latest EU auditor's report. Jean-Claude Juncker's new executive should, it says, seize the opportunity to move from a ''spending'' culture to a ''performance'' culture. Just under 150 billion euros of EU spending was put under the microscope. Nearly five per cent of that was spent in violation of EU rules, it concludes. No member states are singled out - it says there was failure to curb fraudulent and other unjustified claims for EU cash across the euro zone. Amongst examples it found: an Italian farmer who claimed compensation for not using harmful pesticides - but was doing just that. And a German airport contract awarded with EU support even though tender rules had been breached. As for Juncker: he's to present details of a 300-billion-euro plan for investment to bolster growth and jobs by the end of this year. Private investors are expected to be called upon to fund it. SOUNDBITE (English) Philippe Gijsels, Chief Strategy Officer, Fortis Bank: ''Juncker has some very ambitious plans ... but the question is always how are we going to pay for it And, what you have seen from the UK recently, a lot of member states are not willing to put up more money so then it is very questionable where the money is going to come from. So I think the plans are OK, but I think the financing part is still to be worked out - and then I think there will be a lot of discussion going forward and not necessarily a good outcome.'' Euro zone finance ministers meet later in the week. They too look as if they have their work cut out.