The aim of this article is to gain some understanding of the way the European Court of Auditors (ECA) assesses European Union (EU) member states’ performances in managing EU finances. To this end the ECA's annual reports for 1996–2001 have been analysed. We find that the information provided in the ECA annual reports is somewhat unsystematic, which is the result of the ECA's approach to auditing and its working methods. A review of the literature, as well as our own empirical analysis, allows us to conclude that the ECA does not in fact live up to its own mission of providing relevant, objective reports. Our analysis suggests, for instance, that there is some ambiguity within the ECA due to differences in audit traditions within the EU. Improvements could be made by reducing the number of ECA members to three or five, by (further) integrating the traditional ECA audit and the audit within the framework of the statement of assurance, and by further integrating internal and external budgetary control within the EU.