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France hands UK €200m for ghost warship

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France hands UK €200m for ghost warship
France gave the UK €214 million for research into building a companion boat to its aircraft carrier de Gaulle, which is shown here. Photo: Pascal Subtil/Flickr
11:03 CET+01:00
France's top state auditor released a stinging report on Tuesday that lashed out against instances of wasteful government spending like the €214 million paid to the UK for research on an aircraft carrier that was never built.

France poured over €200 million down the drain on an aircraft carrier that never saw the light of day. This was the type of wasteful government spending that was highlighted by France's national auditors said on Tuesday.

In its annual report the Cour de Comptes said France must do more to cut profligate spending and that the country runs a "significant risk" of overshooting its budget deficit target for 2013.

One seemingly simple way of saving money would be not to hand over €200 million to the UK as part of a project to build a new aircraft carrier, as France did, only for it to be ditched at a later date.

The Cour de Comptes dedicated a chapter of its report to the aircraft carrier fiasco that dates back to 2006.  

France agreed to pay the UK €214 million in order to consult British research, with the aim of building a partner to its only carrier the Charles de Gaulle.

The idea was that a partnership with the UK would generate savings, but in 2008 former President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to suspend cooperation with Britain on the project.

It was finally abandoned for good in 2013 with no ship to show for it, research that was unusable and only a huge whole in the state's pocket, Le Parisien reported. 

"From the outset this agreement was burdened by uncertainty and was unbalanced to the detriment of France," the auditors said in their report. "It was clear that British industry did not wish to share in the construction of aircraft carriers, or even the direction of the project, with the French."

Worse yet, the expenses constituted "an undiluted French contribution to the financing of British of aircraft carriers," the auditors wrote.

On Tuesday the president of France's highly influential Cour des Comptes, Didier Migaud, said in a speech on its annual report that efforts to cut public spending had to be "pursued and increased in the next three years."

The report from the auditors, which each year gives an overall assessment of the state of public finances and also highlights selected cases of mismanagement and waste, comes just as the government begins work on how to cut a further €50 billion from spending in the next three years.

Here are a few of the report's of other recommendations on how France can reduce the most egregious examples of government waste:

  • Reconsider certain perks. Workers at France’s state-owned railway SNCF get train tickets for themselves and their families that are nearly free. In 2010 840,000 people took advantage of this benefit to the tune of €140 million. The agency has just barely started a rethinking of the practice

  • France’s national teaching support centre is obsolete. The National Centre of Pedagogical Documentation (Centre national de documentation pédagogique) which is supposed to provide materials to help teachers, is “inefficient and ineffective.” It’s materials, created by 31 different committees, were largely unknown to teachers and only 12 percent were of a digital nature.  

  • Get rid of the chancellor’s office at the public universities in Paris. With its 60 workers and €14 million budget, the office is mostly responsible for managing a real estate portfolio that includes 15,544 square meters of property in Paris. The office has been charging below market rates, notably to 10 or so renters with ties to French education authorities.

  • Better management of the social welfare institutions. The fund that pays pensions to newly retired architects, surveyors and some self-employed workers is frequently late with payments. About 25 percent of checks were three to six months late while 27 percent arrived more than six months past the due date.

  • Better handling of government investment. The purchase of France’s stake in the arms brand Manhurin was “poorly handled” in part because the audits that preceded the investment were “rushed.” As a result the audits failed to notice that a private company, even though its a minority stakeholder, is in charge of the arms maker. 

The Cour des Comptes also warned that France was at risk of overshooting its target of reducing the public deficit to 3.6 percent of GDP this year

France is EU's second-largest economy and the state of its finances and efforts to turn around its anaemic economy are closely watched across the bloc, in particular in its economic powerhouse Germany.

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