EU moves to address funding fraud, corruption
Brussels yesterday (1 March) launched a new website making it possible for citizens and European Union officials alike to anonymously report suspicious use of EU funding to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
The portal, referred to as the Fraud Notification System and which went online yesterday, makes it "easier and more secure" for EU officials, businesspeople and members of the public to notify OLAF of potential cases of fraud, corruption or other irregularities.
Previously the EU's anti-fraud office had relied on freephone numbers and email to receive the tip-offs from outsiders it needs to fulfill its task of protecting the Union's financial interests.
Shedding light on why the new system is being introduced, Nicolas Ilett, acting director-general of OLAF, explained that "citizens and businesspeople frequently ask us how they should go about reporting suspected fraud involving EU fraud to us".
Ilett also explained that the office occasionally hears from EU officials who "despite all the legal guarantees" are cautious about approaching OLAF directly on cases where they suspect corruption is going on.
"Our new Fraud Notification System should help everybody," he said, explaining that it offers informants a "simple user-friendly interface" giving them "the opportunity to submit information to OLAF anonymously but nevertheless to enter into a dialogue with our investigators".
The new system will allow investigators to question informants about their complaints while maintaining their anonymity, an innovation which OLAF hopes will encourage more people to contact the office.
"[We have] always investigated anonymous reports, but until now had to subject them to stricter preliminary scrutiny […] to prevent abuse. In the process, [our] investigators regularly face the practical problem of being unable – inevitable with anonymous informants – to ask questions in order to obtain clarification," OLAF said in a statement.
Technical safeguards under the new system, which "operates like a 'blind' letterbox where both parties can drop off messages," mean "no-one, either inside or outside OLAF, can discover the identity of anyone who has opted to remain anonymous," the statement continued.
The anti-fraud office is also inviting users of the service to flag potential cases of official misconduct.
The system, in its pilot phase, is currently available in English, French, German and Dutch, but users can submit information in any EU language.
In October 2008, in October, the European Commission launched a website making details of beneficiaries of all types of EU funding available to the public for the first time (EurActiv 03/10/08).
The 'Financial Transparency System' search engine - part of a wider transparency initiative launched by Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas in 2005 (see EurActiv LinksDossier) - gives "free access to details of who receives EU funds managed directly by the Commission" and the executive agencies it sets up to manage EU programmes.
Meanwhile, a report published in 2008 revealed that the financial impact of irregularities and suspected fraud in the use of EU funds by the bloc's member states was continuing to grow despite the decreasing number of cases documented (EurActiv 23/07/08).
- By August: EU Anti-Fraud Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta to present proposals on reforming OLAF.