European institutions throw weight behind Epsas

31 May 13
European Commission plans for harmonised public sector accounting standards have been welcomed by the European Court of Auditors and European Central Bank.

Aurel Schubert, director for general statistics at the ECB, told a conference in Brussels on Wednesday that the introduction of a single set of European Public Sector Accounting Standards would be a ‘major milestone’ for public sector financial management.

‘Introducing Epsas is, from our perspective as a user of government finance statistics, promising,’ he said during the event.

The conference was held to discuss the next steps for the potential for Epsas, following publication in March of a report on the project by EU statistical service Eurostat project in March. The plans have already been welcomed by the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Schubert added that harmonised accrual-based accounting would be consistent with the national accounts currently used to calculate European Union member states’ debt, deficit and gross domestic product – the European System of Accounts.

‘It has appealing features – accrual basis has a consistency with the macro accounts, with ESA, and it’s easier to transmit public sector accounts into ESA-compliant data if the micro-data is already compliant,’ he explained.

Harmonising accounting across governments and government entities would also improve the reliability of data, he said.

He added: ‘Epsas is no end in itself, it can only be a precondition for better targeted government policies and will have a positive effect on statistics, but it will require a major effort and investments.’

ECA president Vítor Manuel da Silva Caldeira said the benefits of Epsas could be as significant as those seen when the European Commission introduced accruals accounting based on the International Public Sector Accounting Standards in 2005.

This had improved the transparency, accountability and public scrutiny of the commission’s accounts, he said.

What has proved true for the European Union could also prove true for the European public sector, provided certain conditions are met,’ he added.

As well as ensuring the right decisions are made, Epsas would also increase the transparency needed to assure EU citizens that their concerns were being heard.

‘We need to estimate the costs, the benefits and risks to future generations of decisions we take now. Improving transparency in this way may also go a long way to being able to being able to provide a true and fair view of the added value of EU membership.

‘I believe it would make an important contribution to strengthen the EU’s democratic legitimacy and accountability, while also contributing to stable public finances across Europe.’

However, he stressed that developing and maintaining standards would require a collaborative effort, in which public sector auditors had an important role to play

‘An important precondition is that the public sector accountants, statisticians and auditors work together at the outset to help policy makers to get things right from the beginning.

‘There are difficult discussions to be taken about the structure, governance and procedures for producing and maintaining the complete set of Epsas. These will have to be maintained in law at EU and national level.’

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