Saturday

25th May 2019

MEPs to limit anti-fraud investigations

  • Three MEPs in 2011 were caught on camera accepting bribes to influence legislation (Photo: Sunday Times)

The European Parliament on Monday (8 October) agreed to allow the European Commission's anti-fraud office, Olaf, "immediate and unannounced access" to the premises of any EU institution suspected of fraud.

But the text says the regulation must still apply the parliament's "statute for members," which grants MEPs immunity "from any measure of detention and from legal proceedings." Only the parliament can waive the immunity.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

According to the final text, the parliament would be informed in advance of any Olaf attempt to enter an MEP's office.

"[Olaf] cannot intrude on the rights of members on the basis of rumours," said German centre-right MEP Inge Graessle, who negotiated the parliament's position.

The text also calls upon Olaf and the parliament to work out an agreement that would respect the "freedom and independence" of deputies and their assistants.

The debate over Olaf's access to MEP offices kicked off when Austrian euro-deputy and former interior minister Ernst Strasser was caught on tape last year accepting a bribe to influence legislation.

Journalists from the UK's Sunday Times newspaper posed as lobbyists and covertly filmed the transaction. They also taped Slovenian centre-right Zoran Thaler and Adrian Severin of Romania making similar deals.

Thaler resigned ,while Severin is still a deputy after accepting €12,000 for "two to three days" work.

Romanian authorities in July charged Severin for defrauding over €400,000 from the EU budget after allegedly filing fake invoices over a three-year period.

Meanwhile, Vienna prosecutors charged Strasser in August with corruption in a trial that could see him serve 10 years in prison.

Immunity clause dropped

Deputies had also tried to reinforce the final text in their favour by introducing a so-called immunity clause that would essentially prevent Olaf from conducting on-site investigations.

The clause failed to get into the final resolution because it was tabled too "late" by the parliament's legal services, said Graessle.

Graessle claims the amendment is necessary to protect MEPs from false accusations.

All 27 member states opposed the immunity clause and argued the amendment would unfairly grant MEPs and their assistants additional immunities.

Specifically, the clause noted that deputies and their assistants could only be subject to criminal investigations "led by the competent national authorities in accordance with the applicable rules on immunities."

For her part, Emer Traynor, the commission's spokeswoman on audit and anti-fraud, said such an amendment would essentially grant MEPs greater immunity privileges than those enjoyed by other EU institutions.

"To grant the MEPs greater immunity than the other EU actors would have set a dangerous precedent," she noted.

The EU institutions, including the parliament, are covered under the protocol of immunities that requires any investigating bodies to respect a set of rules when conducting criminal or judicial investigations.

Olaf only conducts "administrative investigations" and so falls outside the remit of the protocol, says the commission.

But Graessle argues that euro-deputies need greater protection because of their political duties.

"Members belong to the less protected group [compared to other EU institutions]. We are less protected than a normal citizen," she said.

The parliament is likely to adopt the text in its next Strasbourg plenary later this month.

Romanian MEP charged with defrauding over €400,000

Adrian Severin, a Romanian MEP accused of having taken bribes from journalists posing as lobbyists, has been charged with siphoning €436,000 from the EU budget to bogus consultancy firms in Romania. He is still in office, claiming his innocence.

Analysis

Sibiu: EU leaders prepare post-Brexit show of unity

With the European elections just three weeks away, the EU-27 will try to set the agenda for the next years for the EU institutions. But with persisting divisions on key issues, unity will be an achievement in itself.

News in Brief

  1. UK's May announces June 7 resignation date
  2. Ireland votes for EU election and divorce referendum
  3. Report: May to announce resignation plan on Friday
  4. Leading politicians: time for EU to have female leaders
  5. Poll: Finland's Green party to surge in EU elections
  6. High demand for postal voting in Denmark
  7. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations
  8. Switzerland unlikely to sign draft EU deal

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  2. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK
  3. Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'
  4. EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'
  5. Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?
  6. Italy train row exposes competing views of EU
  7. Dutch socialists on top in first EP election exit poll
  8. No usage data kept for EU parliament's 'Citizens' App'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us