The European Union said Friday it wants to know if some of its funds were misused last year for an Elton John concert in Italy just as the financial crisis was forcing member nations into austerity.
EU spokesman Ton van Lierop said Friday the EU Commission wants "to know as quickly as possible" why local authorities used money typically earmarked to boost investment projects of poorer EU countries for the British pop star's concert.
John performed before tens of thousands of people in September 2009 in the heart of Naples at the Piedigrotta festival, which is backed by local authorities.
National authorities have a lot of leeway on what spending to approve from such investment funds under €50 million ($69 million), including cultural projects, but the Commission wants to know why any money was used for such a concert.
Van Lierop said in a telephone interview that €2.25 million of EU funds were invested in the festival, with €720,000 dedicated to organizing the Elton John concert.
He said the use of such funds for cultural ends often consisted of renovating historic buildings or setting up cultural centers rather than one-time concerts.
Dario Scalabrini, artistic director of the Piedigrotta festival, defended the use of the funds, saying they were intended to promote the area and the concert did just that.
The money went entirely for Elton John's performance fee, he said. He said the concert was broadcast live on state TV and drew 100,000 spectators, including 6,000 tourists.
Elton John set Naples Plebiscitto square alight that night with such classics like "Candle in the wind" and "Your song."
The whiff of budgetary scandal comes at a bad time, since European Union nations want to contain the EU budget while they also have to contain spending at home to keep their budget in line.
Van Lierop said the probe into the concert will be included in a general assessment on how Naples' region of Campania puts EU funds to good use. If the use of some funds are deemed inappropriate, the amount of money could be withheld in a future disbursement.
Associated Press Writer Victor Simpson contributed from Rome.