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Put out more flags

The eurosceptic criticism of the report that some EU-funded projects in the UK are to have to return £150 million because they have not provided enough publicity for the sources of funding is both predictable and surprising.

Predictable, in that it offers yet another opportunity to bash Brussels for its apparent bureaucratic pettiness and rapacious demands for British money. It suits the narrative that the EU is a plot against Britain.

But surprising, in that the eurosceptics appear to be acquiescing in a failure to enforce the EU’s rules. Normally, they are the ones who complain that other countries flout the financial regulations and controls; now, they are encouraging it. Imagine if a pro-European politician had written on his blog, as John Redwood has done, that this money should not be paid back because it was a “technical infringement”.

The obligation to acknowledge the EU as a source of funding is a contractual requirement. No organisation has to accept the money in the first place, so if they do, they should follow the rules.

But let me note two further points.

First, John Redwood is indeed correct to describe these infringements as “technical”. They are not fraud. And it is the accumulation of such technical infringements that leads the Court of Auditors to qualify the accounts of the EU: the eurosceptic picture of the EU as riddled with fraud is a false one.

In fact, as the news about British repayments shows, the UK is just as responsible for this state of affairs as any other member state. And the fact that UK government bodies such as the Department of Work & Pensions, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Defence have had their accounts qualified too shows that this is not a problem of the EU but a problem of government as such.

Secondly, it is not wrong that organisations in receipt of EU funding should acknowledge the fact. These are not “excessive EU propaganda demands” at all. What if the European Union were to make grants in secret? What would the eurosceptics say about that?

(Full disclosure: the European Movement does not receive funds from the European Commission.)

Richard Laming

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