Brussels turns up the heat on EU member states over transparency

(dpa) - The European Union's Brussels-based institutions turned up the heat on member states on Tuesday, accusing them of lacking transparency in the way they spend EU funds and of failing to control their fishing fleets.

The European Parliament "is very concerned that many member states are still reluctant to step up cooperation" between national capitals and Brussels on the key issue of financial transparency, a parliamentary report adopted Tuesday said.

In a separate statement, EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg slammed member states for failing to control their fishing fleets.

"The current control system is so inefficient that it jeopardizes our efforts to achieve sustainable exploitation and long-term management of (fish) stocks," Borg said in a statement.

"Control and enforcement of agreed rules are the responsibility of member states," the statement said.

And at the same time, a spokeswoman for Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner announced that eight out of the bloc's 27 members, including Germany, its largest state, and Ireland and Luxembourg, its wealthiest ones, had failed to provide information on how they had spent millions of euros in EU funds.

Germany and Austria had sent no information on the EU money which they had spent in 2007, while the Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland and Luxembourg had sent no information on funds spent in 2007 which had been allocated between 2000 and 2006, she said.

If the countries do not provide the relevant information within a month, they could face the possibility of legal action, she said.

The European Commission, which acts as the bloc's executive body, "will not hesitate to use that means if it has to," she said.

The EU's budget ran to 126.5 billion euros (185.5 billion dollars) in 2007. Of that, almost 80 per cent - close to 100 billion euros - was meant to support farming, fishing and development in poor areas.

Practically all the money comes from EU member states. Eurosceptic politicians in those states regularly accuse the Brussels organs of wasting their taxpayers' money through excessive bureaucracy and non- transparent management.

But commission officials insist that it is EU member states, not the central bureaucracy, who are responsible for managing the great majority of the funds. In all, nine candidates appear on Tuesday's ballot.

Voting was scheduled to last 12 hours until 1600 GMT and the first official results were expected after midnight. A new election law passed last year forbids voting by Armenian nationals living abroad.

The United States has threatened to withhold 235 million dollars in aid, while further diplomatic relations with the European Union may be contingent on the fairness of Tuesday's vote, which will be monitored by 620 international observers.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's vote monitoring mission was to deliver its assessment on Wednesday afternoon.

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