Saturday, November 20, 2010

Italy Must Repay Elton John Concert Cash

Each year thousands of projects get financing from the European Union, which lavishes billions of euros on its less prosperous regions. The bloc finally drew the line Friday, asking for a refund of money used to pick up the tab for an Elton John concert.

After a brief inquiry, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, ordered Italy to repay 720,000 euros, or about $983,000, used by local authorities to pay for the concert last year in Naples.

The payment, first questioned by an Italian member of the European Parliament, is the latest and highest-profile incident over use of European taxpayers’ money.

Although claims of waste have been made often against the bloc’s budget, there is increased sensitivity in the new climate of austerity in Europe, where many governments are cutting public spending as well as raising taxes and the age of retirement.

Several other recent cases have questioned the use of public funds spent under the European Union’s regional aid budget or as part of its farm subsidy system intended to help development in rural areas.

In Slovakia, the government has criticized its predecessor for using European Union money to improve leadership skills in a vegetable processing plant and for giving money to two soccer teams that was intended to help educate the Roma.

Open Europe, a group critical of European integration, published a list of European Union-financed projects from a number of programs it identified as wasteful, including one that gave 411,000 euros, about $560,000, for a Hungarian dog fitness and rehabilitation center that was never built.

Ton van Lierop, a spokesman for the European Commission, said Friday that a letter had been sent to the Italian authorities asking them to reimburse the money for the Elton John concert.

“Cultural events, culture in general, can fall under the scope of operational programs, but they have to be aimed at structural long-term investments,” he said.

The episode highlights one of the weaknesses of the European Union’s regional financing program, which permits national and regional governments to decide how to allocate money from the European Union for most projects worth less than 50 million euros, about $68 million.

The concert was part of the Piedigrotta Festival in Naples in September 2009, and the financing came out of a European regional program for Campania, worth about $3 million, Mr. van Lierop said.

Stefano Caldoro, the governor of the Campania region, declined to comment through a spokeswoman, Bloomberg News said.

- NYTimes

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