Margarida Vasconcelos: Another ECA’s damning report

The European Court of Auditors published yesterday a special report entitled “EU-funded airport infrastructures: poor value for money”. The EU’s airport infrastructures have received around €4.5 billion, over the 2000-2013 programme periods, through the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN‑T). The Court scrutinized 20 EU funded airports in Estonia, in Greece, in Italy, Poland and in Spain, which received from the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund 666 million euro from 2000 to 2013, €460 million of that total was audited. The report reveals that only half of these airports could in fact show the need for EU-funded investment, and the Court concluded “the EU‑funded investments in airports produced poor value for money.”

The EU auditors found that the construction of most of the audited airports was not completed on time and on budget. They noted “Almost half of the airports experienced cost overruns, which meant that the Member States had to spend almost €100 million more from their national budgets than initially envisaged.” Moreover, the report reveals that the new or upgraded airport infrastructures were not fully used, in fact the report points out that they were “often underused, with some €38 million worth not being used at all.”

The Court noted that there was no adequate planning and forecasting and consequently too many EU funded airport infrastructures were built too close to one another and they were oversized. The EU auditors concluded “Only half of the audited airports succeeded in increasing their passenger numbers, while, for more than half of them, air traffic forecasts significantly over-estimated increases.” The Court particularly noted that “a €16.5 million invested in an extension to Kastoria’s runway (which has never been used for the type of aircraft for which it was built) cannot be considered an effective use of public funds.”

Moreover, the Court also found that the “improvements in customer service were either not measured or not evidenced”, as well as little evidence of regional socio-economic benefits, most of the airports have not created additional jobs. George Pufan, the ECA Member responsible said “We found that some airports were not profitable in the long term, some were underused and some were not used at all,”.

The Court concluded therefore that the audited airports were not financially viable. The report stressed, “Seven of the airports, mostly those with fewer than 100 000 passengers per year, are not financially self-sustainable and will struggle to remain in operation without more public money.”

The Court found that Member States have not coordinated well the EU funds, noting the lack, in some Member States, of a strategic long‑term airport development plan. The EU auditors also found that “funding was insufficiently supervised by the Commission, which generally does not know which airports are receiving funding or what sums are involved.” Hence, the Court recommends the European Commission to “ensure during the 2014-2020 programme period that Member States only allocate EU funding to airport infrastructures in those airports which are financially viable and for which investment needs have been properly assessed and demonstrated whilst “The Member States should have coherent regional, national and supranational plans for airport development to avoid overcapacity, duplication and uncoordinated investments in airport infrastructures.”

This is another ECA damning report that reveals that British taxpayers’ money is not being properly spent. This report shows that millions of taxpayer’s money has been wasted on investments in airport infrastructure, for over a decade, that were not necessary, in fact, they are useless. If there were ever any doubts there shouldn’t be now, the EU budget does not ensure value for money for taxpayers. British taxpayers’ money is being spent in a system that does not work. The outrageous demand by the European Commission to the UK to pay an extra €2.1 billion to the EU budget was the final straw, particularly when the EU monitoring and accounting system is inadequate. The time has come to say No and stop paying this vast amount of money for running the EU, which is a failing project.

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