During a public hearing in the budgetary control committee this week, the Director-General of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), which is tasked to protect the EU’s financial interests, said that in 2018 OLAF concluded 167 investigations of fraud and issued 256 recommendations to national and EU authorities to recover more than EUR 371 million to the EU budget. Over the past 10 years, OLAF recommended the recovery of over EUR 6.9 billion. This is definitely not to be neglected. However, almost two third of the decisions taken by OLAF were dismissed by Member States. Overall, there is a downward trend with indictment rates being particularly low in Bulgaria (8%), Czechia (14%) and Germany (21%).
One of the reasons is the lack of political will, as national prosecutors are more concerned by money stolen from the national budget than from the EU budget. It also seems that “when there are political links involved, Member States tend to conduct fewer investigations,” added OLAF’s Director. This is unacceptable. We should prioritize the protection of all European citizens’ money, which are supposed to be long term investments, and should ensure that everyone is equal in front of the justice system, including politicians.
Another reason for the low level of indictment is that the current legal framework does not provide a sufficient legal basis to allow all Member States’ judicial authorities to use OLAF reports as evidence in trial. Therefore, after receiving the reports, prosecutors carry out all the investigation activities once again in order to acquire admissible evidence. This shows an absolute lack of efficiency and coordination and prolongs all prosecutions into a state of inaction, where the case has a clear conclusion, on the basis of evidence provided by OLAF, but needs to be investigated by national authorities over and over again. This is also an important drain on a scarce resource: citizen´s trust.
With the revision of OLAF’s mandate increasing the admissibility of its reports and with the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor (EPPO) in November 2020, we should see some improvements in the number of prosecuted cases. While OLAF will continue its administrative investigations, the EPPO will have the power to conduct criminal investigations, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU budget. Nevertheless, we need an harmonised legal basis for using trail evidence in all Member States, judicial systems should start cooperating more with EU bodies and trust their independent recommendations. Cooperation is especially important for cross-border fraud cases.
Because of the important role of OLAF and the EPPO in combating fraud and corruption in the EU, dealing with more than 3500 cases each year, we should also make sure that these EU bodies receive the appropriate resources to operate. Unfortunately, OLAF will have its staff reduced by 10% and the EPPO would need 75 additional posts to be fully operational. The European Commission and Member States need to finally show that they do not tolerate misuse of EU funds by providing adequate funding to anti-fraud bodies.
Mikuláš Peksa, Pirate MEP
OLAF annual report 2018: https://ec.europa.eu/anti-fraud/sites/antifraud/files/olaf_report_2018_en.pdf