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By Stephen Gardner. A petty turf war has revived between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – the bit that represents the governments of the member states.

The parliament on 23 October refused to sign off the council's 2012 accounts. Again. The same thing happened in 2011 for the 2009 accounts and in each year subsequently.

In 2012, the council spent £418 million, of which 60% was payments to the council's 3150 staff, and another 21% went on the organisation of meetings of member state officials. But the parliament's concern is not the correctness of the financial figures, which are on the council's website and are vetted by the EU court of auditors.

What really annoys the MEPs is that the council ignores their questions about the accounts and will not send representatives to be questioned. The parliament points out – justifiably – that even if the breakdown of the council's 2012 budget is available, the council has a duty to be publicly probed on the details.

In particular, the parliament wants to know more about what is being spent on two fancy new council buildings. The parliament has also highlighted a criticism of the council made by the court of auditors – that there were “errors” in two procurement procedures in 2012.

What the parliament glosses over, however, is that the court of auditors made similar criticisms about errors in procurement procedures carried out by the parliament in 2012! The council says it will not answer the parliament's questions because the parliament has no right to ask them. The EU Treaty only gives the parliament the right to interrogate the European Commission on its management of the overall EU budget, which includes the £418 million set aside for the council.

A Council official said that the real issue was “principle and power” – in other words, the council doesn't think it should deign to be scrutinised by upstart MEPs. The official added that the parliament's refusal to sign off the council's accounts is meaningless – there are “no legal consequences.” The whole spat has been wasting everybody's time for four years now. When will the children learn to play nicely?

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