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Working methods

Far from being a solely technical matter, certification is a new field of competence and intervention for the Cour des comptes. The final objective is to provide the public with a sure source of clearer, more comprehensible financial and accounting information and a more transparent picture of the financial reality of the Central government and Social Security.

Each year, an order by the First President establishes the programme of work for the divisions for the coming year. The work is organised according to the principle of adversarial procedure and collegiality, to avoid legal, practical and appraisal errors in the rulings and communications sent by the Cour des comptes to the appropriate authorities.

Judges carry out their audit based on documents and on-site investigations. The members of the audit team present the managers of the audited entity with their main observations (facts and analysis). At this stage, only the audit team is involved, and not the Cour des comptes.

During the first collective deliberation, the investigation report is presented during a court session. The head of court presents the findings of the Prosecutor’s Office, the auditor shares their proposals, and these are approved o rejected by the quality reviewer. The collegial body decides on any action to be taken. Then, the draft audit observations (ROP) is sent by the head of court to the audited manager. In certain cases, ROP may be deemed unnecessary. In this cases the Cour des comptes directly establishes its definitive course of action in the first deliberation. The Cour des comptes may also decide to hold a hearing from the managers. The second collective deliberation
(which may if necessay be followed by one or more further collective deliberations) takes place in the same manner as the first one.

- The annual public report examines, through almost twenty themes, the management of State services, local authorities and public bodies, as well as the implementation of public policies.

- The report on the situation and and outlook for public finances is an opportunity for thorough-going analysis of income dynamics, changes in expenditureand the contributing factors, budget management and forecasting systems and ways of exercising better deficit control.

- The report on the performance of finance act is designed to enlighten the budget debate in Parliament and more generally public debate.

- Each year, The Cour des comptes draws up a report on Social security, analysing its financial situation and presenting the findings of the thematic audits it conducts on the various branches of social security.

Besides, (pursuant to paragraph 2 of article 58 of the LOLF), the Cour des comptes conducts all enquiries requested by the Finance and social affairs commissions of both parlimaentary assemblies. These reports are used as a basis for the work of members of parliament in their debates, as well as in hearing of political and administrative managers.

In addition, since 1991, the Cour des comptes has been publishing thematic reports dedicated to subjects of interest to those in charge of public management, as weel as for the general public. (These reports, dedicated to examining public policies, are sometimes the fruit of collaboration with regional and territorial chambers of accounts).

Finally, it has been producing reports on bodies calling on public generosity, regarding the mission of auditing the use of funds statements of charities that collect funds from the public.

The Cour des comptes makes recommendations in all its publications. It systematically monitors the outcome of these by scheduling follow-up audits. Each year, it summarises the resulted obtained in the second volume of the public report. As of the end of 2015, over 70 % percent of its proposals had been fully or partially followed.

This independence is based on its status as a court, which has been the case since it was founded in 1807, (as declared by the Constitutional Council in its decision dated 25 july 2001 on the constitutional by finance act concerning its freedom of programming).

This was reinforced when the Cour des comptes became self-governing- a recent change taking effect when the institution was placed in charge of certifying the State’s accounts. Thanks to its institutional status, the Cour des comptes enjoys three-fold freedom : freedom to programme its controls, adopt its own positions and publish its reports.

The independance of the institution also arises from the independance of its members, who are permanent judges. (Their statutory guarantees have been reinforced since 2006). It is also a central government of mind and practice. In this respect, the independence of the Cour des comptes is firmly established in custom thanks to its prestige and long-standing existence.


As an audit office, the Cour des comptes controls the use of public funds. These controls are often assimilated to performance audits. These controls are administrative controls, they cannot lead to a ruling. The Cour des comptes has no mandate to judge the public managers. The General prosecutor’s office is the link between the Cour des comptes and the judicial authorities. Depending on the audit findings of the Cour des comptes, it refers suspected criminal offences to the legal authorities. For instance, the Budget and finance disciplinary court (CDBF) may judge public managers who seriously misconducted or violated public financial.

As a court, the Cour des comptes has the power to impose sanctions for irregularities in public management through the ruling of public accounting officer’accounts. public accounting officer are personnaly and financially responsible regarding the compliance of all operations (receipts and expenditure) which they control. In the event of irregularities, it may require the repayment of wrongfully paid or unpaid sums by the accountant in question. This is known as a statement of default (mise en débet). Furthermore, the Cour des comptes may issue rulings imposing fines for delays in producing accounts

Auditing focuses on using investigation methods to detect discrepancies between the management and accounts of an entity on the one hand and a standard on the other, from a mainly critical standpoint.

Evaluation, meanwhile, is not aimed at apportioning blame, still less at designating who is responsible. It starts with a neutral outlook and seeks to higlight positive aspects as well as criticising negative aspects. It may help to confirm a public policy or call into question its very existence, if this policy does not appear to be appropriate. The neutrality of the Cour des comptes,its independence, vast remit and its working methods based on collective responsibility and fair hearing all help to ensure evaluations are conducted properly and thoroughly.

The distinction between evaluation and performance is for some SAIs not easy to draw. Program evaluations are sometimes considered as merely belonging to performance audit. Program evaluations, unlike performance audits, do not deal mainly with the effectiveness of a program or a policy, its efficiency and in general the causal relationship between the resources employed and the aimed objectives, even though this examination serves among others as a basis for their exhaustive assessments of an issue. They are more focused on analysing the long term impact of a program or a policy, on the one hand, and on questioning the value of a program or a policy, on the other hand.

The Cour des comptes checks the proper use of public funds, both by examining the accounts of Central government and public establishement accountants, and by directly examining the management of authorising agents. In the event of irregularities, it may refer the matter to the Budgetary and Financial Discipline Courts (CDBF).

The Cour des comptes also hands down opinions on the quality of the management of public companies and if necessary, presents its observations on their accounts. Additionally, the Cour des comptes is competent to audit social security bodies. Although these were previously governed by private law, they are funded by mandatory contributions. Finally, the Cour des comptes is competent to audit private bodies that receive public subsidies.

Since the constitutional revision of July 23, 2008, the Cour des comptes is a financial jurisdiction in charge of ruling, controlling, assessing and certifying. The Cour asseses the accounts of public accountants.

The many observations and recommendations it makes deserve to be brought to the public’s attention, and the French Constitution emphasises its role of providing citizens with information. As a result, its findings are published in various forms – including online publications on its website.


The Cour des comptes’s international work is conducted through various cooperative initiatives, in collaboration with professionnal bodies that bring together supreme audit institutions (SAIs) for public finances including Eurosai ( European Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions), Eurorai (European Organisation of Regional Externe Public Finance Audit Institutions), Intosai (International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions) etc ) and during external auditing mandates for major international organisations
(including Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), OIF (International Organization of French speaking countries), OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), etc.

The wide variety of the missions enables the best experience of the financial courts to be recognised, as well as helping their methods to progress by benefiting from exchanges with foreign colleagues.

The best time to visit the Cour des comptes would be during the journées européennes du patrimoine (european heritage days) : each year, the Cour des comptes opens its doors to the public for one weekend in September. More than the discovery of the heritage, the visitor might meet staff of financial jurisdictions and exchange with them.

In 2016, around 1 770 people were employed by the financial jurisdictions, 710 by the Cour des comptes and 1 060 by RTCAs.
There are judges and other auditing staff, including private-sector experts, as well as civil servants assigned to help with auditing and administrative management.

The Cour des comptes is the supreme body auditing the use of public funds in France. It is an administrative jurisdiction whose independence from the legislative and executive branches of government is guaranteed by the Constitution. The Cour des comptes has the authority both to control and advise the Government and to assist Parliament.

The Cour des comptes is headed by a First President and consists of seven divisions and a Public Prosecutor’s office. The First President, after consultation with the General Prosecutor, defines the overall organisation of the Cour des comptes’ work. He allocates the Cour’s powers and duties among the seven divisions and approves the Cour’s provisional work programme upon proposals form the presidents of divisions. The First President has authority over all the Court’s administrative services. He manages the judges and staff, including those of the regional and territorial chambers of accounts.

The RTCAs are independant courts that rule on the accounts of public accounting officer, examine management and audit the transactions of regional authorities and their public institutions. Since 1982, when they were set up, the ties between the Cour des comptes and RTCAs have been continually strengthened. Part of their work is published in the Cour des comptes’ annual public report.

Another aspect of the relationship is the contribution to public thematic reports. These are the result of their investigations, usually in liaison with the Cour des comptes. RTCAs contribute to the evaluation of the public policies and the way these are implemented locally.

The related institutions are supervisory bodies highly diverse.

- The Budgetary and Financial Discipline court (CDBF) is an independent administrative jurisdiction in charge of punishing public commitment officers’ irregularities. It is distinct from the Cour des comptes, but chaired by the First President.

- The Tax council (CPO) comes under the aegis of the Cour des comptes. It is in charge of assessing the economic, social and budget impact of all mandatory contributions and changes in these, as well as expressing recommendations on any question relating to mandatory contributions.

- The High Council for public finance is in charge of assessing governmental forecasts and return to fiscal balance path.

The General Prosecutor has powers to communicate with authorities, at the request of the Cour des comptes and regional and territorial chambers of accounts, as well as on his own initiative. He acts as an intermediary between the Cour des comptes and the legal authorities, particulary to refer suspected criminal offences discovered by the Cour des comptes.

He also monitors the implementation of Cour des comptes rulings and, more generally, is in charge of overseeing the progress of its work, drawing up an annual statistical report.