Report on the National Declaration 2017

The Netherlands Court of Audit expresses an opinion every year on the true and fair view given by the National Declaration. The National Declaration accounts for the expenditure the Netherlands declares to carry out EU projects. In our Report on the National Declaration 2017, we concluded that the assertions are sound with regard to the functioning of management and control systems in place for the EU funds spent in the Netherlands. The assertion made on the regularity, accuracy and completeness of financial transactions down to the level of final beneficiaries is also sound. Moreover, the declaration was on the whole prepared in a sound manner.

Our Conclusions

The assertion made in the National Declaration 2017 regarding the functioning of management and control systems in place for EU funds spent in the Netherlands is sound. The assertions on the reliability of the accounts submitted to the European Commission and the regularity of the net expenditure declared are also sound. Furthermore, preparation of the declaration as a whole was sound. The National Declaration 2017 therefore gives a true and fair view: the management and control systems in place for EU funds functioned adequately and the funds were spent regularly, with the exception of the European Integration Fund (EIF). Improvements can still be made, however, in most of the funds. The most important points for improvement are summarised below.

The Netherlands awards grants to farmers to defray the cost of taking out insurance against adverse weather conditions. The grant is part-funded from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). The management and control system is efficient but may contravene EU rules. The Ministry of Economic Affairs will review the controls in consultation with the European Commission. In our opinion, this is the most appropriate way to minimise the risk of the European Commission imposing corrections.

Payments awarded for agricultural nature and landscape management funded from the EAFRD still contains too many irregularities. We therefore recommend that the State Secretary for Economic Affairs evaluate the results of the new regime introduced for agricultural nature and landscape management during the first year of its implementation and take additional measures if necessary to strengthen compliance with the management rules.

It is of urgent importance that the authorities responsible for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) resolve the remaining differences of interpretation regarding the regulations as soon as possible so as not to jeopardise the timely submission of expenditure statements to the European Commission. The authorities intend to resolve their differences quickly and thus bring the ERDF improvement programme to a successful conclusion.

In our opinion, improvements need to be made to the electronic information system established for the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) (particularly with regard to information security) before all processes become operational. A consistent and comprehensive set of process descriptions, work instructions and frameworks is also required before the schemes are opened up to applicants.

For the first time, the Minister of Finance has included the National Declaration as an annexe to the Central Government Annual Financial Report. In an explanatory note to the Central Government Annual Financial Report, the minister presents policy-relevant information on the EU funds under shared management and considers the Netherlands’ contributions to the EU. He explains the different kinds of contribution, their financial importance and how they are calculated. This strengthens the coherence of the information that the government currently provides on contributions in a variety of budget and accountability documents. The Netherlands’ contributions to the EU are not considered in theNational Declaration 2017. In previous publications, we recommended that contributions should be included in the National Declaration so that the government could provide the same assurances on them as it does on the use of EU funds under shared management.

The minister has taken a step in the right direction by including information on planned and completed evaluations of EU funds in the Central Government Annual Financial Report. In doing so, he has followed the good example set by the European Commission to improve insight into the added value of EU funds. We believe there is still potential to increase the relevance of the information in the Central Government Annual Financial Report. The minister could do so by, for example, also considering the outcomes of evaluations once their utility has been established.