The Contact Committee is an assembly of the Heads of the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) of the EU Member States (MS) and of the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
It is an autonomous, independent and non-political assembly which meets every year. While the European Court of Auditors has been part of this assembly since 1978, the Contact Committee itself has existed for much longer. Indeed, the first meeting of Heads of SAIs of the EU (then EEC) was held in 1960.
Since then, the Heads of the SAIs have been working together in the Contact Committee, which acts as a forum where matters of common interest are discussed. With the introduction of own resources to finance the EU budget in the late 1960s, and the subsequent extended role of the European Parliament in budgetary matters, the need for an independent external audit body for the EU became increasingly apparent. The Contact Committee was in fact instrumental in setting up the ECA and codifying its powers in the Treaty of Brussels in 1975, which led to the creation of the ECA in 1977. The Contact Committee invited the ECA to join in 1978, thereby becoming its tenth member.
As European integration has developed since the Treaty of Rome, so too has the role of the Contact Committee. Over the years, cooperation between MS SAIs and the ECA has become more organised and institutionalised. This is also reflected in the European treaties where reference to such cooperation has gradually become more explicit.
The EC Treaty in its original form stated that the ECA shall undertake its audit in "liaison" with the SAIs of the Member States, while the Treaty of Amsterdam later added "the Court of Auditors and the national audit bodies shall cooperate in a spirit of trust while maintaining their independence". Then, in the Treaty of Nice, Declaration 18 of its final act invited the ECA to set up a Contact Committee with the SAIs of the Member States (which in fact already existed).
However, cooperation between MS SAIs and the ECA is not simply a legal obligation but rather a practical necessity dictated by the fact that Community and national administrations have become more and more closely linked. With the large-scale decentralisation of the management of the EU budget towards the national authorities in the Member States and beneficiary countries, the centre of gravity of the audit of EU money has moved towards these countries. As a consequence the Treaty gave a legal basis for cooperation between the ECA and national supreme audit institutions or other competent national audit bodies. In practice, the national supreme audit institutions provide the Court's auditors with local practical and logistical support as well as specific knowledge of the audited field.
The liaison officers of EU SAIs and the European Court of Auditors meet twice a year in order to prepare the meetings of the Contact Committee and to provide an active network of professional contacts around Europe. The Contact Committee sets up working groups on general and specific issues of common interest.
A task force was created by the liaison officers in order to assist them in dealing with issues specifically related to audit cooperation.
The individual SAIs of the Contact Committee also participate in activities organised by EUROSAI, the European umbrella organisation for the Supreme Audit Institutions, and INTOSAI, the worldwide organisation.