Monday

3rd Oct 2022

MEPs trade fraud allegations over assistants

  • National Front MEP and leader Marine Le Pen - Olaf is investigating if National Front MEPs have paid assistant salaries to people whose tasks are not related to European Parliament work (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Allegations that French far-right right MEPs have breached European Parliament rules on hiring assistants have triggered “tit-for-tat” accusations among other MEPs, the director of the EU's anti-fraud agency told journalists on Tuesday (2 June).

Giovanni Kessler likened it to the wave of accusations among German politicians that followed a 2011 plagiarism scandal involving the then defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Since 2010, Olaf is receiving an increasing number of allegations ("incoming information"). (Photo: European Anti-Fraud Office)

“They started accusing each other ... This is what is happening in the parliament now”, said Kessler, who is director general of the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf).

Kessler indicated the attitude of MEPs was defensive summing it up as: “You are accusing me to have assistants which are not exactly in line with regulation? What about your assistant?”.

Olaf is investigating if National Front MEPs have paid assistant salaries to people whose tasks were not related to European Parliament work.

But Olaf is also investigating allegations "on other assistants, because this has triggered tit-for-tat. Many. Now it is becoming popular.”

Kessler did “not want to comment further” on the issue, but did say that “the rules on assistants in the parliament are not the most crystal clear we have ever seen … which gives a lot of space for allegations and also possibly some people playing with it”.

European parliament president Martin Schulz made the allegations public last March.

Although Kessler did not directly comment on Schulz, he criticised those who file a complaint with Olaf and then tell the press, something Kessler "regrets" because it impedes the investigation.

Annual report

The Italian official made his remarks at a press conference to present his office's annual report.

The report showed that Olaf opened 234 investigations in 2014, and closed 250 investigations. Both figures are slightly above the annual average of the past ten years.

But Olaf, whose staff of 421 is 19 fewer than a year earlier says it is unable to open more investigations.

“We are at the top of our capacity. Our forces are stretched”, said Kessler.

In 2014, the agency received 1,417 new allegations of fraud or corruption involving EU funds or staff. The number of complaints filed with Olaf has steadily risen in recent years from 975 in 2010.

“Is there more fraud, more corruption than in the past? We do not think so”, said Kessler, who noted that the increase in allegations probably stems from “increased awareness” of the issue and readiness to report possible fraud.

Last year, Olaf also dismissed 1,067 allegations, up from 961 in 2013.

The largest portion of allegations come from private sources. These range from “companies which report a request of a bribe that they might have received … [to] the anonymous who says: 'I didn't win the lottery, this is corruption'”, said Kessler.

Information from public sources (most often EU institutions) is “quality-wise better, more substantial”.

As in preceding years, the largest number of allegations are about possible misuse of the EU's structural funds.

Of the 156 closed investigations into the use of EU funds managed at national or regional level, the largest portion (36) concerned Romania, followed by Hungary (13), and Bulgaria (11).

But that does not mean that those countries “are the most fraudulent”, noted Kessler, because the figures also include cases where no fraud or corruption was detected.

He also added that it is becoming increasingly difficult to “put everything in the national boxes”

“More and more these kind of crimes are of a transnational nature.”

Olaf itself cannot fine or convict anyone, but only give national authorities a recommendation.

In the past seven years, 33 percent of Olaf's recommendations have led to an indictment, 30 percent were dismissed. The rest of them has not yet been processed.

In 2014, €206.5 million was recovered for the EU budget. At the end of the year, there were still 474 investigations ongoing.

National Front in EU fraud allegation

The National Front is facing allegations of fraud for having the EU parliament pay salaries to MEP assistants who perform tasks unrelated to the assembly.

EU parliament staff object to canteen price hikes

The EP has stopped subsidising its self-service restaurant, leading to price increases for staff who choose to eat there. It was even discussed in the Committee on Budgetary Control.

Feature

Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

EUobserver spoke with several business figures and all confirmed they voted for Georgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy because it promised stability, less bureaucracy and tax cuts. Matteo Salvini's anti-EU rhetoric scared them, while they trust Meloni has "more common sense".

Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory

In Warsaw and Budapest, the prime ministers were quick to congratulate the new Italian leader, who — they hope — will back them in their battles with the EU over civil rights, rule of law and democratic backsliding.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks
  2. Putin declares holy war on Western 'satanism'
  3. Two elections and 'Macron's club' in focus Next WEEK
  4. EU agrees windfall energy firm tax — but split on gas-price cap
  5. Ukrainian chess prodigy: 'We are not going to resign ... anywhere'
  6. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  7. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  8. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us