SP gives critical support to proposals to improve EU anti-fraud service

20 November 2008

SP gives critical support to proposals to improve EU anti-fraud service

The Christian Democrat Ingeborg Gräßle has won the 'provisional' support of SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer (SP) for her report, presented today in the European Parliament, aimed at improving the work of the European Union's anti-fraud service, known by its French acronym OLAF. 'The SP supports this as a first step towards improvement, but not under the illusion that it will solve all of the problems associated with OLAF," Meijer said.

Erik MeijerIn relation to fraud, public opinion holds the EU in low regard. "Many voters see this Europe as an unsupervised paradise for fraudsters," says Meijer. For years there have been complaints that the control commission which is supposed to guard the OLAF guards lacks the expertise and the legal basis to exercise effective supervision.

At the very least, a person charged with fighting fraud must be of unimpeachable character. "In order to do its work OLAF must be independent of the European Commission and of the European Council," Meijer insists. OLAF must also of cost be under effective control and open to improvement, matters discussed in the Gräßle Report, the discussion of which this morning was not attended by a representative of the Council.

Vulnerable to fraud
"The streams of European Union money are vulnerable to fraud," Meijer argues. "Because a large part of the expenditure consists of agricultural subsidies and regional funds, the EU acts as an intermediary. Because of this, responsibility is shared with others, who often regard the promised funds as their own money. First you gather in the money and then you dole it out to interested parties or to projects in local or regional authorities which are difficult to keep a check on. As long as the expenditure remains vulnerable to fraud you will need extensive checks and a vigorous struggle against it."

Poorer regions
'We might be able to reduce the incidence of fraud a great deal if we were to aim budgetary support and cohesion moneys at poorer regions, with the sole criterion being that projects should be designed to allow people to stay as far as possible in their own countries. By reducing income differentials, creating jobs and good quality services we could make mass labour migration unnecessary. That would reduce in turn all of the problems associated with it," says Meijer, who was referring also to the morning's other debate, on the 'Blue Card'. The Blue Card is designed to promote selective inward migration, of highly educated and trained workers and professionals from outside the EU.

Candidate of choice
To return to the debate on OLAF, Meijer says that in order to reduce fraud "large sums of money and more personnel are not enough. The appointment of the current director was done against the recommendation of an independent selection panel which advised on the seven most suitable candidates. The European Commission had, however, already decided their preferred candidate. It also appears that this individual wants to exercise a large influence on the selection of his staff, which means that appointees will be completely dependent on him. None of this will contribute to developing confidence in the seriousness of the fight against fraud."

'Moreover," adds Meijer, "it turns out that whistle-blowers cannot safely pass evidence of fraud on to OLAF. If it gets out, they can be sacked for transgressing secrecy. In addition, it is too often left to the press to bring scandals into the open and punishable offences are often not revealed until it is too late to pursue the perpetrators. Hearings are not well organised. Too many investigations are delayed or halted before a satisfactory result is achieved."

Small steps forward
"The Gräßle Report marks the first small steps in the right direction," Meijer concedes. "It could lead to somewhat more autonomy for OLAF, to less domination by the European Commission and to better guarantees for informants. The supervisory committee must be further strengthened and the decision process on this Regulation must not be delayed or halted."

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