Sunday

18th Apr 2021

Stolen EU funds in the billions, top official says

  • Brussels says national authorities have a dismal track record when it comes to chasing down leads sent to them by the EU anti-fraud agency (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The annual theft of EU funds is around €500 million, but a top European Commission official says the figure is likely in the billions.

“We have reasons to believe that the real figure is closer to billions than to millions,” Francoise Le Bail, who heads the commission’s justice directorate-general, told the European Parliament's civil liberties committee on Wednesday (18 September).

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

The current €500 million figure arises from statistics sent to Olaf, the EU anti-fraud office, by member states, but Le Bail said national authorities do not have the right tools to make an accurate estimate.

Le Bail, along with Olaf boss Giovanni Kessler, spoke to MEPs to set out their case for tracking down those who steal EU money by setting up a new European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO).

The EU-wide prosecutor would be mandated to investigate fraud of EU finances, although the Lisbon Treaty says the office's power could be expanded at a later date.

The top prosecutor would be composed of a central office along with deputies or prosecutors from different member states. Most member states would also have an EPPO branch staffed with prosecutors selected by the respective national governments.

Kessler says the office is necessary because national authorities have a dismal track record when it comes to chasing down leads sent to them by Olaf.

“There is a non-uniformity by member states in their capacity and willingness to deal effectively with these kinds of crimes,” he said.

Conviction rates sent to Olaf over the past 13 years vary from less than 5 percent in some member states to over 90 percent in others.

Both Le Bail and Kessler said political will among some member states to stop the theft is either non-existent or primarily focused on a national perspective that fails to look at the transnational nature of the crime.

“Crimes which are committed by authors at the same time by different actors in different member states like corruption, like fraud involving European funds, are likely not to be discovered, not to be even seen or perceived by national authorities which only have a national fragmented perspective,” said Kessler.

Le Bail said the EPPO would be independent from national and institutional influence and would be accountable to budget overview by the European Parliament. The Court of Justice can also dismiss the prosecutor.

Most member states have expressed interest in the idea. But Denmark has opted out, with both the UK and Ireland likely to do so as well, noted Le Bail.

Deputies in the committee were largely supportive but questioned the scope of the proposal, its safeguards, and the new prosecutor's investigative powers.

Romanian Liberal MEP Renate Weber, who backs the idea, said there is a risk that a two-tier procedure on prosecution may emerge as a consequence.

“I cannot imagine that a bunch of prosecutors working for the European prosecutor will apply a certain procedure regarding the European financial interest and a different one regarding other crimes within the country,” she said.

For his part, German Green Jan Albrecht said his group backs the concept but noted that numerous questions remain, including the broad definition of investigative measures.

The European commission tabled the proposal over the summer with an aim to have the office operational at the start of 2015.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us