The EU's financial watchdog, the European Court of Auditors, has slammed the European Commission for failing to effectively manage the implementation of new computer systems to run agriculture subsidies.
In its annual report, the Court said the failure by member states to properly introduce the Integrated Administrative and Control System (IACS) - set up in 1993 to handle the Ecu40 billion paid out to European farmers each year - means that the system cannot be effectively managed and the EC may have to penalise states.
"Although it kept itself informed about progress, the Commission took no formal measures during the development of IACS to ensure that good computer practice was followed. This could have been done by reference to industry standards generally or by using the guidelines issued by the Commission's own informatics directorate," it said.
Computer reviews were carried out in Spain, France, Italy and the UK and the court examined in particular project management, physical and logical security measures, systems design and implementation, it said, but gave no details on any of the suppliers involved.
"Weaknesses relating to the separation of duties were identified in Spain and France, and weaknesses in acceptance testing and testing of disaster recovery plans were found in Spain, France and Italy. It was noted that only the UK applied adequate standards for computer developments," it said.
The IACS, which aims to deal with the widespread fraud of farm subsidies, should cross check the alphanumerical identification of land parcels, obtained from registers and remote sensing data, against the computerised database of payments, it said.
The court found that some member states had not directly linked the databases to carry out the checking. In the UK this had been carried out successfully but only partly in Germany and Spain.
In France, no cross-checks were carried out before 1996. "At the beginning of 1996, when computerised cross-checks were carried out for the first time, one parcel was declared four times without being detected by the system," the court said.
"As cross-checks of parcels are built into the computer system, such failure puts the whole system into question," it said.
The court also criticised the use of remote sensing and said satellite efforts have "proved so far to be too inaccurate to be relied on for the measurement of areas, although it appears in most circumstances to be effective in checking the nature of the crops grown. Aerial photographs or traditional field inspections using accurate measurement techniques should continue to be used to determine areas until remote sensing by satellite can be shown to have attained the accuracy required," it said.
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