EXPENDITURE ON the common agricultural policy in 2003 was “materially affected by error”, according to the European Court of Auditors, which for the tenth year in a row was unable to approve the EU’s accounts.

The court notes that different levels of risk attach to different parts of the CAP, with the most satisfactory results achieved for arable area payments. But livestock headage payments are less reliable, it says, “owing to largely to frequent animal movements”.

The greatest errors, however, occurred in those areas not covered by IACS and where payments relate to the quantity produced. Rural development was another problem area.

The court also notes weaknesses with regards to “structural measures” – the other big area of spending after agriculture – and pre-accession aid to the new member states.

Overall, expenditure on agriculture in 2003 came to €44bn (£31bn), out of a total budget of €100bn (£70bn).

The court gave a clean bill of health to 64 of the EU’s paying agencies, managing €33bn (£23bn) of farm spending. But the remaining 21 agencies, handling €11bn (£7.7bn), could not be approved.