The key role of the CONT committee is to control the implementation of the EU budget and the European development fund. "We check how the EU budget's approximately €130bn a year has been spent, and we examine whether or not funds have been used correctly and whether policy goals have been achieved." This, says committee chair Ingeborg Grässle, is done primarily by granting discharge to the European commission and the other institutions and agencies of the EU. "We also have an eye on the activities of the European investment bank. Furthermore we have to monitor the cost-effectiveness of the implementation of Union's policies, involving specialised committees."
Parliament's budgetary control committee, to give it its full name, is also responsible for the appointment of members of the court of auditors and has regular and occasionally fractious contact with the European anti-fraud office (Olaf). "In a nutshell, says Grässle, "the CONT committee is parliament's watchdog for EU financial matters".
"Member states' control authorities lie openly to us – and the council does not even take notice of it. We will work on that, believe me – it's not over yet..."
The key focus for the committee in the immediate future says Grässle will be the yearly discharge procedure "which has been and will be the central task around which all our other activities are organised". However, the EPP deputy adds that CONT, "also has some legislative files on our work programme which will be of relevance not only to budgetary control experts but to anyone involved in the implementation of EU policies." The creation of the European public prosecutor's office (EPPO) will she suggests, "open up a new chapter in the history of the EU, while another legislative project closely connected to the EPPO, will be the directive on the fight against fraud to the EU's financial interests by means of criminal law (the so-called PIF directive), which will harmonise member states' penal codes. And of course, we will further improve the legal basis for Olaf."
More than half the deputies in the CONT committee were elected in May and the veteran Grässle says she is currently spending time explaining the workings of the committee, "explaining what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are doing it".
Grässle believes that Jean-Claude Juncker has "made an interesting proposal" on the commission portfolio shake up. He's broken away from the silo structure in the commission. If he is consistent, and I hope he will be, he should first assess the effects of the previous decentralisation in the commission."
As for the role of member states, Grässle is scathing. "The council? They are a nearly hopeless case. They have to show that they are committed to Europe and European values." For 20 years she argues, Spain and Italy have topped the error rankings of countries implementing the EU's budget. "Member states' control authorities lie openly to us – and the council does not even take notice of it. We will work on that, believe me – it's not over yet..."
Ingeborg Grässle is chair of parliament's budgetary control committee