Sunday

21st Apr 2019

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

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

  • 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.

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. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us