The European Union's executive should be stricter and more consistent in cracking down on excessive public deficits, EU auditors said Tuesday.
The 28-country bloc is still struggling to achieve a convincing economic recovery after years of financial crises, many of them fuelled by lax public finances.
The EU requires its 28 member states to have public deficits no higher than 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and public debt levels below 60 per cent of GDP, but these limits have routinely been exceeded.
When this happens, the European Commission has the power to launch an excessive deficit procedure, which can result in fines for eurozone countries that fail to comply.
"The commission plays a vital role in ensuring that the excessive deficit procedure functions as it should. But it must be more strict," Milan Cvikl, a member of the European Court of Auditors, said in a statement.
The court analyzed excessive deficit procedures between 2008 and 2015 in six member states: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy and Malta.
Currently, nine EU member states still have open excessive deficit procedures. The commission so far has never resorted to fines, using public pressure instead to push member states into fixing their public finances.
But the auditors found that the commission is "not sufficiently aware of what is happening on the ground and it is not applying the rules consistently," Cvikl said.
The institution should focus more on structural reforms, obtain more reliable data from member states, give better feedback and be more transparent about its data assumptions and parameters, the EU auditors said.
"The commission did not make full use of its powers to enforce the provision of comprehensive data and compliance with recommendations for corrective action," they wrote in their report.
But the auditors also lauded the commission's efforts to "adapt and rationalize the excessive deficit procedure in response to developments in the EU" and noted that Brussels is prepared to make more improvements.
"The commission already commits to action in areas where the report identifies challenges and expresses concerns," said Alexander Winterstein, a spokesman for the EU's executive.
He called the auditors' report "constructive" and said it would contribute to the commission's efforts to "improve the functioning" of the excessive deficit procedure.