We are not yet talking about the McKinsey affair, like the one that agitated the last weeks of campaigning in the first round of the presidential election, but the conclusions of the report by the Court of Auditors of the European Union on the employment of conflicts interests could embarrass Strasbourg and Brussels. Between 2017 and 2020, the European Commission spent €3.7 billion on external consultants for various services, i.e. 0.05% of the annual EU budget (€159.1 billion in 2019).

If the amount remains low in view of all the expenses, are these hundreds of millions of euros spent really useful? Not really in the eyes of the rapporteur François Roger-Cazala: “the work done by the consultant could be done by internal staff in the future,” he said Thursday when the report was released. “Outsourcing certain tasks can be useful”, but the European Commission should “ensure that, in doing so, it maximizes the added value obtained for the amount disbursed”, continued the member of the CEC, quoted by the EURACTIV site.

For the Court of Auditors, this recourse, which does not always prove effective, is explained above all by “significant shortcomings” of the Commission to evaluate the work of the consultants. These flaws have an immediate effect: to re-engage expertise that it has internally or for which it has already called on a consulting firm. The supervisory body therefore urges greater control of the work of consultants and to be more attentive to the way in which the various executives of the commission resort to studies or expert missions. “Consultancy services must be controlled, like any other service”, detailed François Roger-Cazala, suggesting that the Commission use them “more judiciously” by improving transparency and reporting on all the missions offered to consulting firms. . A mission that will undoubtedly benefit small structures hitherto neglected by the European technostructure.

In Brussels, the bigger you are, the more you work for the commission. And the more you work for the commission, the more you will continue to work with it regularly. Of the 2,769 consultants hired between 2017 and 2019, the top 10 firms alone accounted for 22% (around €600 million) of contracts signed. The three firms with which the European Union maintains the most links collected 240.7 million euros. “Some Commission services are highly dependent on a relatively small number of contractors. It is not uncommon for a single supplier to win successive contracts over several years, even if open tendering procedures are regularly organised. ” commented the report.

The situation of concentration could lead to conflicts of interest worries the Court of Auditors. Although no conflict of interest was identified during the study, the CEC only examined 20 of the 8,009 contracts over the period examined. “Our conclusion is that these risks of conflicts of interest and excessive dependence are not properly dealt with”, even points out François Roger-Cazala. The procedures to prevent this kind of risk are simple voluntary declarations, insufficient to ensure the absence of conflict of interest. “There must be several additional steps to ensure that the information provided by a third party is accurate”, gets carried away by the rapporteur. Composed of 22,000 civil servants, the European Commission will no doubt have to explore its internal market for the next few years.