16 March 2009
The European Commission is facing new questions over late payments, in an investigation launched by the European Ombudsman.
Ombudsman P Nikiforos Diamandouros laid out a history of late payment problems dating back eight years in a letter to the commission president José Manuel Barroso. Diamandouros asked for up-to-date information on the number of cases and how much money was held up.
An investigation into the issue completed in July last year found more than 22 per cent of all payments made by the commission in 2007 involved delays.
The EU itself has campaigned against late payment and said it led to job losses.
The commission reportedly blamed the complexity of the evaluation process it goes through before settling invoices for the delays.
A spokeswoman said the overall situation is improving with the rate of late payments dropping from 42 per cent in 2005.
"The commission takes the issue extremely seriously and is conscious that it is crucial for the beneficiaries of EU funds."
Announcing the new enquiry, Diamandouros said he had received complaints from groups involved in EU-funded projects. He wanted to find out what steps the commission had taken to tackle the late payment problems.