Commission President Romano Prodi has rejected calls for resignations of members of his Commission over fraud in the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat.
Mr Prodi told the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament on Thursday, 25 September, that there was no reason to ask any Commissioner to resign over the Eurostat affair. “On the basis of the facts I have outlined, after careful thought and in full awareness of the issues, I consider there is no reason to ask any Commissioner to assume political responsibility and resign,” he stated at the opening of the hearing on the Eurostat case. In recent days, several members of the Parliament have called for the resignation of Commissioner Pedro Solbes, responsible for Eurostat.
While recognising mismanagement at Eurostat, Mr Prodi argued that the present Commission should not be expected to bear political responsibility for what went on at Eurostat before 1999, i.e. before the time of Prodi’s Commission. He told the Parliament’s leaders that his Commission had initiated radical reforms of the institution; in 1999, a series of scandals led to the resignation of the former Santer Commission in 1999. “We left not a single stone unturned,” he said, but added that “this work of reform is not finished yet”. Mr Prodi underlined that “the Commission is not a little sailing boat that can tack on a pull of the tiller. It is a big ship that takes time and distance to come about”.
Hans-Gert Pöttering, leader of the Conservative group, said it was "still too early to reach a definitive conclusion on the affair". He underlined that the priority was "to resolve the problems and change the structures in order to ensure the proper functioning of the Commission and administrative reform, not to single out a scapegoat". "Apart from Commissioner Pedro Solbes, we also need to examine the responsibility of Commissioner Neil Kinnock (administrative reform) and Michaele Schreyer (the fight against fraud), as well as the Secretary-General of the Commission as regards internal communication," Mr Pöttering stated. He urged Commission President Prodi to present an action plan on how to improve the work of the Commission in the very near future. "All Commissioners concerned must accept their responsibilities and should now concentrate on solving the problems which had come to light as soon as possible," said the leader of the biggest political group in the Parliament.
Enrique Barón Crespo, President of the Socialist group, stated that "Parliament's Conference of Presidents is not the appropriate body to draw conclusions regarding political responsibilities at this point". He argued that the Budgetary Control Committee should continue to thoroughly analyse the Eurostat case and "draw the appropriate conclusions to be put to Parliament's plenary". The Socialist group underlined that "whoever is found to be in serious breach of administrative rules should be punished accordingly".
European Liberal Democrat leaderGraham Watsonstated after the meeting with Mr Prodi that it was up to the Commission to decide whether to draw political conclusions". "However, if I were Commissioner Solbes I would already be drafting my resignation letter," Mr Watson said. He added that any final conclusions on political responsibility can only be reached once the Parliament has the full report of the Internal Audit Service, due by the end of October.
Jens-Peter Bonde, President for the Group for a Europe of Democracies and Diversities, underlined that Commissioner Pedro Solbes "must resign right away beca use the Interim Report shown to the Members of the Budget Control Committee of the European Parliament Wednesday night proves that the whole administration is badly managed and has covered up fraud for years." He demanded that the Commission hand over its control over fraud investigations to the European Parliament's Budget Control Committee. Mr Bonde also called for a group of "wise men" - independent external experts - to be set up "to write a trustworthy report like they did on the Santer Commission in 1999".
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Co-President of the Green/EFA group, said that the Budget Control Committee should draw up a comprehensive report and submit it to the plenary. "On this basis we will be able to assess the political consequences of the Eurostat case," added Mr Cohn-Bendit. He underlined that the reports on the Eurostat affair "raise a number of questions, particularly concerning responsibility at political and administrative levels".
Commission President Romano Prodi has presented three reports on the Eurostat affair in a closed hearing with the European Parliament's leaders: one by the Commission's internal auditors, one by the EU's anti-fraud body OLAF and one by a special Commission taskforce. The reports confirm serious fraud at Eurostat which is reported to have cost the EU around 6 million euro.
The European Parliament's political leaders are likely to ask the Budget Control Committee to investigate the Eurostat affair and submit its conclusions to the plenary in the near future.