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Do we have the right balance between responsibility for budget implementation and political accountability for the Union budget’s use?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The responsibility for budget implementation.
  3. The predominant role of the Commission in budget implementation.
  4. What makes the Commission's role particularly limited?
  5. The Parliaments refusal to vote the discharge of the 1996 budget.
  6. Conclusion.
  7. Bibliography.

The evolution of the budgetary procedure, with the new financial regulation of 2002, has increased the responsibility of the different actors and clarified the different management methods, increasing the transparency of the whole procedure. Those changes allow us to wonder if there is, today, a right balance between responsibility for budget implementation and political accountability for the Union budget's use. Since those two levels of responsibilities ? responsibility for budget implementation and political responsibility for the budget's use - imply different actors, assessing the balance between those responsibilities means assessing the part played by those actors in the budgetary procedure. In order to achieve this assessment, we need to take into account both meanings of the concept of ?responsibility?. The first meaning is linked to the notions of power and competence: being responsible means being in charge of something, being competent within a specific field of action ? and sometimes being compelled to do something because no one else is able to do it. The second meaning is more political: it means that we, as a political organization, are submitted to an external judgment that can lead to sanctions, such as the obligation of resigning: this is the main criterion of a democracy.

[...] Article 48 of the new financial regulation, adopted by the Council on June 25th 2002, confirms the rule that was already stated in the previous regulation of 1977: it confirms the Commission's responsibility for budget implementation, whatever the management method adopted. Within the Commission, several actors are responsible for budget implementation: article 58 of the 2002 financial regulation indicates the two main actors in charge of budget implementation. The authorising officers, first, are responsible for the whole implementation process: each DG has its own, and their role is to indicate the revenue to collect and institute the expenditure. [...]

[...] The control, indeed, applies on operations that have already been made: payments and commitments, for expenditure, and cashed payments, for revenue. This control applies to all the accounts of the community, according to article 248 of the EC treaty. The Court of auditors has powers of investigation, detailed in articles 140 to 142 of the financial regulation: as a result, the Court is able to compel the institutions it controls to send as many documents as necessary for the Court to make its annual report. [...]

[...] Thus, in 1998, when the Parliament refused to vote the discharge of the 1996 budget, a committee of experts was created to analyze the way the Santer Commission had implemented the budget. This threat led the whole Commission to resign in March 1999, before the Parliament could even pass a vote of no confidence. The Commission's attitude showed that this possibility could actually happen, and illustrated the Parliament's ability to sanction, as well as the political responsibility of the Commission. In that sense, the discharge procedure is highly political, and this shows that the Commission's supremacy in terms of budget implementation is limited. [...]

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