Close to €59 million from the European Social Fund (ESF) may have been used or accounted for incorrectly last year, according to the Commission's director-general for employment, social affairs and inclusion, Koos Richelle. Programmes implemented in Germany made up one-third by value of the suspected irregularities.
The department interrupted payments for claims worth €886m in 2011. Of these, €298m had not been resumed by the end of the year, affecting four programmes in Italy, two in Spain, two in the UK and one in France. Three programmes – one each in France, Italy and Spain – had all payments suspended indefinitely, an escalation from a mere interruption. In 2012, two suspension warnings have been issued, to the Czech Republic and Italy. Because of recurring problems in Spain, the Commission and the Spanish authorities drafted an action plan whose implementation started last year.
The department's report notes that the overall error rate is thought to be in the range of 2%-2.5% in 2011, down from the previous year, when it was 2.5%-3%. There are 24 programmes affected, compared with 30 in 2010.
The European Social Fund (ESF), a structural fund whose management is shared between the Commission and the member states, made up more than 96% of the department's budget of €11.5bn. The department is also responsible for one component of the EU's Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) – funding that is spent by candidate countries, monitored by the local EU delegation.
In March this year, the Commission interrupted payment for a claim of €717,200 submitted by Macedonia under its IPA programme, and asked the government to address the problems identified, which range from problems in its management information system to severe understaffing in certifying and implementing bodies.