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02/12/2016

EU Parliament calls in fraud squad over National Front suspicions

Justice & Home Affairs

EU Parliament calls in fraud squad over National Front suspicions

Supporters paste a poster of Marine Le Pen, France's National Front leader, on a wall before a political rally for local elections. Frejus, March 2014. [Reuters]

The European Parliament announced Monday (9 March) that it had alerted anti-fraud investigators to possible financial irregularities committed by France’s far-right National Front (FN) party over salaries paid to EU parliamentary assistants.

In a statement on Monday (March 10), the European Parliament said that President Martin Schulz had informed OLAF, the bloc’s anti-corruption agency, that 20 people are being paid from the EU budget as lawmakers’ assistants, according to National Front documents, as officials of the party’s national organisation.

“Assistants paid by the European Parliament must perform work directly linked to the exercise of a member’s parliamentary mandate,” said the statement issued by the legislature.

A parliamentary source said the fraud totalled 7.5 million euros, confirming figures given by French daily newspaper Le Monde.

Schulz has also written to French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to express his suspicions.

The statement stressed that assistants receiving wages from the European Parliament must work “directly” for Parliamentary MEPs.

“It is not for Parliament to draw conclusions. It is the OLAF to decide in its capacity as the EU anti-fraud agency,” stated European Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch.

National Front head Marine Le Pen announced on Twitter her intent to file a complaint over the “false accusation”.

“Basically, Schulz is right… our assistants do not work for the European Union but against it,” FN Vice President Florian Philippot tweeted, underlining his party’s political stance, while adding that the case was “bogus”.

OLAF must now decide whether or not to open an investigation, a process which could take several months.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned Sunday that the FN could win the next presidential election in 2017, saying their policies were a “disaster” for the country.

The National Front is leading in some French opinion polls, benefiting from discontent with Socialist President Francois Hollande and with high levels of unemployment.

Polls showed that the FN could win an “unprecedented” score in forthcoming local elections on March 22 and 29, Valls said.

Positions

Transparency International, the anti-corruption NGO, applauded European Parliament President Martin Schulz for alerting OLAF about the potential abuse of EU funds by the Front National.

"The European Parliament should have a 'zero-tolerance' policy when it comes to cases of fraud and corruption involving EU funds, and so we also urge the European Parliament authorities to take equally swift and decisive action if evidence of similar irregularities come to light involving other political parties," TI said in a statement.

Transparency International also recommended that the Parliament strengthen its own integrity system, as recommended in its 2014 report, "to ensure such cases are detected and properly dealt with". Specifically, it said the Parliament should:

  • Develop and publish a comprehensive anti-fraud strategy, similar to the anti-fraud strategies which have been put in place for European Commission Directorates-General
  • Put in place internal whistle-blowing guidelines, including details of the reporting channels available and provisions to protect staff who alert the Parliament of cases of suspected fraud, corruption or maladministration.

Background

France's far-right party, the National Front (FN), had its best ever electoral performance in the European elections of May 2014, wining almost a quarter of the total votes cast.

The National Front is now France's largest delegation in the European Parliament, with 24 MEPs out of a total of 74.

>> Read: As predicted, far-right leads with 25% of French vote

The far-right party has been trying to ride the wave of momentum they built up during the European elections to become the most important political party in France. 

Since winning the election, the National Front has been seeking to form a political group in the European Parliament, but has so far failed.

This has deprived them of numerous advantages, including European funding.

>> Read: National Front renews hunt for European funding

The National Front has stirred controversy recently for taking significant loans from a Russian bank.

>> Read: National Front's Russian loans cause uproar in European Parliament