Wednesday, April 06, 2016

When the truth is damning enough, there is no need to exaggerate

When you are describing a genuine problem, wildly exaggerating it is not usually the best way to get action in the long term. It can give you a short term advantage by confusing your opponents and motivating your supporters, but I happen to have the boring opinion that it's better to get your facts right. And a classic example is the European Union Accounts.

Fact one - the European Court of Auditors really has made significant criticism of the European Union's accounts in most recent years.

Fact two - whenever a British politician or journalist mentions this in public debate there is a very strong chance that they will wrongly describe the problem: most often by alleging that "The EU's accounts have not been approved for 25 years (which is not actually true.)

Those who watched the fantastic programmes "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" may remember that "Party Games," the final "Yes Minister" episode which concludes with Jim Hacker's election as PM, includes a scene where Hacker and Sir Humphrey confront Maurice, an EEC Commissioner. When Hacker puts to Maurice that he has one Eurocrat paying British farmers to produce masses of surplus food, and somebody in the next office paying them to destroy the surpluses, this is the response:

Maurice:   "It's not true!

Sir Humphrey: (raising an eyebrow and drawing out the word) "No?

Maurice: "He's not in ze next office! Not even on ze same floor!"


I presume the reason that people get away with making the (untrue) statement that the EU's accounts have been rejected every year for a quarter of a century (or insert suitable time period here) is that, because it actually is true that the European Court of Auditors keeps finding that the accounts are "materially affected by error." people who know the facts are afraid that if they correct the person who has just exaggerated the situation they will end up sounding like Maurice.

If you look at the relevant page on a reputable fact checker such as Fullfact.org or indeed look at the reports of the European Court of Auditors themselves which you can do on their website here, you will find that they have signed off the accounts as having been properly kept in accordance with international accounting rules for 2014 and for every year since 2007, but they have also found that too much money was not spent properly.

You will find on the ECA website that the President of the European Court of Auditors told the European parliament:

"First, we have "signed off" the 2014 EU accounts. They are reliable and we have issued a "clean" audit opinion to that effect. We also conclude that the collection of EU revenue was free from material error.

That said, there is a persistently high level of payment errors, which means too much money is still not spent in accordance with the EU’s financial rules.


The overall estimated error rate for payments in 2014 was 4.4%, and it has been stable for the last three years.

Again, all operational expenditure was affected by a material level of error of more than 2%."


Now 4.4% of the EU's total spending is quite a lot of money, about 6.27 billion Euros which is way too much for any responsible organisation to be happy that it is not being spent in accordance with the rules.

And the fact that this percentage has been "stable for three years" over which about 18 billion Euros would have been spent incorrectly is even worse, suggesting that nothing effective has been done about it.

That is not good enough and there should be more fuss about it.

But given how bad the truth is, why is it necessary to exaggerate and come out with all this nonsense about the accounts not having been signed off for however many years?

1 comment:

Jim said...

Its something I don't understand either. Look at the EU + Cameron's deal, then look at the EEA agreement (which is only the first part of a much larger process) and ask yourself, Why when the EEA is so much better for us, even as a first step, why do the leave campaigns need to go on about savings of "30,000 nurses" which dont exist, or bonfires of regulations?

Its a mystery to me as well.