Financial management of public funds is above all a responsibility. The basic principles of regularity of expenditure, effectiveness and efficiency in the use of public money should apply to all managers of public funds regardless of their powers, influence or role. There should be no exceptions, including for an institution such as the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) nuclear fusion project.
Therefore, parliament's budgetary control (CONT) committee carefully read the report of the European court of auditors (ECA) and with this as our basis, prepared amendments to the discharge of the EU element of the ITER budget. According to the findings of the ECA report, it would be logical for the parliament to postpone the discharge and show that politicians do care about the work and findings of the ICA.
"ITER is diverting funds from research and development programmes such as Horizon 2020"
This resulted in the CONT committee refusing to recommend the granting of the discharge of ITER's budget, due to the serious concerns about overruns, delays and mismanagement in the joint undertaking. Over one third of the funding for the ITER project comes from the EU budget, with the remainder from member states and the other participating countries (China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US).
First, between 2006 and today, the ITER budget increased threefold, from €5bn to €16bn, which has created doubts not only on implementation but also with the planning phase of the whole project. With 45 per cent of ITER's budget coming from the EU budget, any increase of the project has a direct impact on the EU budget and other programmes.
In 2012, the parliament agreed to add €650m to the ITER budget, which was partly financed by reducing the budget for other research programmes. Therefore, ITER is diverting funds from research and development programmes such as Horizon 2020.
Second, after only a few years of existence, the project has been delayed several times. Consequently, the facility is not currently expected to become operational before 2027, 11 years later than initially planned and it will probably face further delays.
Third, the ECA set out several cases of mismanagement. For example, there is a lack of clarity on the degree of advancement of work in-progress, as ITER's information only contains a limited estimate of the advancement of the project. The joint undertaking still has to adopt rules on conflicts of interests for staff, as well as rules implementing the staff regulations.
All the above concerns should not be swept under the carpet. The CONT committee voted against granting the discharge for ITER on the basis of these facts. If MEPs endorse the committee's opinion and vote at the parliament's plenary session not to grant the discharge, the joint undertaking will receive an additional six months to make improvements based on the findings and questions raised by the reports of parliament and the ECA. It will then have to come back to the parliament which will then definitively grant or refuse to grant the discharge.
I sincerely hope that the April plenary session will offer an opportunity to inform all MEPs and the public that transparent and efficient management of public money are prerequisites to a financially healthy and mature Europe.