There is nothing new in the anti-fraud policy recommendations that the European Court of Auditors tabled on Thursday (10 January), the EU Commissioner for Budget Günther H. Oettinger has said.
“Most areas of improvement have long been identified and tackled already, or we are about to,” Oettinger argued, in a defense of the European Commission’s anti-fraud office (OLAF).
However, Juhan Parts, who was responsible for the report, stressed that the Commission should set up an effective system to prevent, detect and deter fraudsters. “A reform of OLAF will be the litmus test for the Commission’s commitment to fighting fraud,” Parts said.
According to the auditors, the EU executive lacks “comprehensive and comparable data on levels of detected fraud in EU spending” and has not proceeded to any kind of assessment of undetected fraud, or an analysis of the reasons that lead economic actors to engage in fraudulent activities.
OLAF’s current administrative investigation of suspected fraud also halts effective prosecution, as it involves a national criminal investigation which requires a lot of time, according to the report.
The auditors’ assessment estimates that OLAF’s final reports “do not provide sufficient information to initiate the recovery of unduly paid EU money” in a number of cases. Between 2012 and 2016, only about 15% of the total amount recommended was actually recovered, the report says.
However, Oettinger rushed to underline that the Commission has “zero tolerance for fraud and corruption with EU funds”, in response of the auditors’ allegations.
European Public Prosecutor’s Office is not as efficient as it should be
Another important concern for ECA is the powers and resources allocated to the future European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).
Detection and investigation of fraud will still depend to a great extent on national authorities, the report highlights. But there is no mechanism enabling the EPPO to encourage member states to allocate the resources necessary to investigate fraud in EU spending, the report says.
Commissioner Oettinger however, insisted that the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be up and running by 2020, and that it will not need to rely upon traditional instruments of EU law for cooperation among judicial authorities of different member states.
“It will investigate, prosecute and bring to judgements crimes against the EU budget in the member states,” he stressed.
When it comes to Cohesion money, the Commission specified that it is in contact with member states’ on each fraud case brought to its attention related to EU cohesion programmes.
However, at the end it is up to the member states themselves to monitor at a first-level any fraud case before communicating it to the EU executive.