PARIS (Reuters) - France’s presidency of the European Union last year cost twice as much as the average due to poor management and an excessively ambitious programme, the head of the Senate finance committee told a French paper.
Committee chairman Jean Arthuis told Tuesday’s La Tribune newspaper that France’s six-month rotating presidency cost 151 million euros (138 million pounds), compared to an EU average of around 70 million euros.
France’s turn at the EU helm was widely praised at the time, with President Nicolas Sarkozy proving highly active on the diplomatic front in his efforts to tackle the economic crisis and to broker a truce in fighting between Russia and Georgia.
He also organised a summit in Paris to launch a union of Mediterranean countries, which has since ground to a virtual halt because of Arab-Israeli tensions.
Arthuis, who is an independent centrist politician, said the French programme was excessive.
“Not all the 500 events organised by the French presidency were essential and their number did not contribute to the French success, which was based on two or three events like the handling of the financial crisis or war in Georgia,” said Arthuis.
He added that the accounts, which have just been reviewed by the official state auditors, had been opaque and it wasn’t always clear who had paid for what.
“This lack of transparency stems from the fact that many events were set up at the last minute,” he said.
However, Arthuis said the presidency had come in 28 million euros under budget and added that the overall bill was comparable to that seen when other big countries took over the presidency, such as Germany in 2007.
“The question now is to look and see if the European Union shouldn’t pay for this sort of thing,” he said.
Reporting by Sophie Taylor