27th Sep 2020

Eurostat: Solbes urged to take responsibility

  • ROMANO PRODI will be asked to appear before the committe after the summer (Photo: European Commission)

The Commission yesterday came under fire from MEPs for not taking political responsibility for the fraud cases in the EU's statistical arm, Eurostat.

As the Commission insists on its rhetoric that it "could not act before as [it] did not know", MEPs in the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee insisted on 16 July that the Commissioner in charge of Eurostat, Pedro Solbes (economic and monetary affairs) - take political responsibility.

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Commission President Romano Prodi, who so far emerged unscathed over this affair, has also been asked to appear before the Committee after the summer break.

Solbes not aware

Admitting that Eurostat was his responsibility, Mr Solbes said he could not act on issues he was unaware of.

"I accept responsibility for everything I have done and for what I should have done but not for something I did not know about," Mr Solbes told the Committee.

Yet MEPs continued to insist that someone take responsibility and questioned why Mr Solbes has not already resigned.

"The fact you did not know is no excuse," Dutch Socialist MEP Michiel Van Hulten said. He was backed up by fellow Dutch MEP, the liberal Jan Mulder. "In every Member State we come from, ministers resigned for much less reason than this Eurostat case. It's not acceptable that nobody took responsibility."

Mr Mulder also asked: "Did the Commission ever think of removing Solbes from Eurostat responsibility?"

Neil Kinnock replied in a straightforward manner, "No. Do you want a longer answer? No, definitely not."

Although Mr Solbes is the Commissioner in charge of Eurostat, Neil Kinnock, Commissioner for administrative reform, and Budget Commissioner Michaele Schreyer, have also been questioned over this affair.

Quality of statistics

During the three and a half hour meeting, Mr Solbes also tried to deter doubts that this scandal would affect the quality of the statistics published by Eurostat, which determines, amongst other things, whether a country risks action by the Commission if it breaches the euro stability and growth pact.

German Conservative MEP Gabriel Stauner revealed that, in a case in 1998, figures cited for France had been incorrect.

More fraud cases?

Some euro-parliamentarians are pushing for an independent inquiry on the case. The Commission has just set up a 20-person inquiry team consisting of officials from within the executive.

Questions were also raised about the existence of other cases similar to the Eurostat case, which itself involves three top EU officials.

"I will be able to answer as we progress in our audit," the Commission's internal auditor Jules Muis said, but added: "There are units, which might have a similar profile…but I don't want to speculate."

On Wednesday, a widespread inquiry into secret bank accounts and fictitious contracts across the European Commission was launched, the Financial Times reported.

The newspaper reported that Neil Kinnock is ordering the Commission's most senior officials to answer a "fraud questionnaire" to assess the extent of the problem.

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