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How the EU spent its budget in 2012 (discharge procedure)

The European Union budget finances a wide range of policies such as growth and employment, agriculture and regional development, research and education, and support to developing countries.


Decision 2014/544/EU, Euratom of the European Parliament of 3 April 2014 on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2012, Section III - Commission and executive agencies.



The European Union budget finances a wide range of policies such as growth and employment, agriculture and regional development, research and education, and support to developing countries.

Over 90 % of the budget goes to funding such policies and most of the projects are implemented directly by the EU countries under the supervision of the Commission (‘shared management’).

To ensure the correct implementation of the EU budget, the European Parliament and the Council initiate a process (discharge) whereby they examine the accounts of the EU and the opinion of the Court of Auditors expressed in its annual report or in special reports.

The discharge process

On the basis of independent audits, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) draws up an annual report on the projects financed by the EU budget. This report includes a statement of assurance, a specific ECA opinion on the reliability of the EU accounts and the legality and regularity of the payments made to the final beneficiaries of the EU funds.

The European Parliament (EP) is the discharge authority in this context. The discharge represents the final step of a budget lifecycle and the democratic control of the EU budget implementation. With its decision to grant the discharge to the Commission, the EP, acting on a Council recommendation, ‘releases’ the Commission from its responsibility for the management of the EU budget for a financial year.


In 2012, an amount of €138.6 billion was spent from the EU budget.

The main categories of EU expenditure are classified by ‘heading’ relating to a range of specific EU policies: sustainable growth (including expenditure on research and education - Structural Funds for the less-developed EU regions), agriculture (including direct payments to farmers), citizenship and border protection, EU external action (including cooperation instruments) and administrative expenditure for the EU institutions.

Policies affected by a serious rate of error

The global error rate for spending from the 2012 EU budget is estimated at 4.8 % (3.9 % in 2011). This error rate is not a measure of fraud, inefficiency or waste associated with spending but an estimate of the money that should not have been paid out because it was not used in accordance with the legislation.

Rural development, environment, and fisheries and health are the most error-prone spending areas with an estimated error rate of 7.9 %, followed by regional policy, energy and transport with an estimated error rate of 6.8 %.

The 2012 EU budget was also affected by:

  • a high level of errors for the agricultural and regional projects under shared management;
  • a large amount of unspent money for EU-committed projects (€217 billion);
  • an insufficient focus on the performance of the projects implemented.

For further information, see:



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Decision 2014/544/EU, Euratom



OJ L 266, 5.9.2014, pp. 30-31


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the Court of Auditors - consolidated annual accounts of the European Union - Financial year 2012 (COM(2013) 570 final of 26 July 2013).

Annual report of the Court of Auditors on the implementation of the budget concerning the financial year 2012, together with the institutions’ replies (Official Journal C 331, 14.11.2013, pp. 1-260).

last update 16.02.2015