21st Oct 2016

Santer spectre haunts Prodi Commission

The European Commission will come under heavy scrutiny this week, as reports to be presented will shed light on whether the EU executive failed to take any action over fraud and irregularities in the EU statistical arm Eurostat.

It is alleged that senior officials in Eurostat channelled millions of euros into unofficial bank accounts, away from budgetary controls.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The Internal Audit Service report will indicate whether irregularities occured in other EU departments (Photo: European Commission)

The 'zero-tolerance' to fraud and mismanagement’ pledged in 1999, when the current Commission took office in 1999, is being tested as some euro-parliamentarians call for political heads to roll over the affair.

The target appears to be the Spanish Commissioner in charge of Eurostat, Pedro Solbes, although other MEPs are also calling for the resignation of the Commission vice-president Neil Kinnock and the Commission President himself Romano Prodi.

When the Commissioners took office in 1999, they each signed a letter addressed to the president of the Commission, Romano Prodi, promising that if he asked them to resign, they would.

Liberals: One resignation is sufficient

Some euro-parliamentarians are against any mass-resignation, as it occurred in the previous Santer Commission, which was forced to resign in the face of claims of nepotism and mismanagement.

"Our view is that one resignation is sufficient", Liberal group leader in the European parliament Graham Watson said last week.

The Commission secretary general David O'Sullivan also faces being made a scapegoat by MEPs - some of whom want to clean up the EU's finances - and others seeking pre-election publicity, the Irish Independent reported.

Last July he said he "was not aware of the possible involvement of senior officials before 3 April 2003", but also admitted that he kept Commissioners in the dark when Olaf, the EU's anti-fraud office, launches an investigation.

"I think it is now widely recognised that I didn't have information in my possession, until April of this year, that would have materially affected the management of this file," he said, in a rare public comment, quoted by the Irish newspaper.

Crucial reports

Commission President Romano Prodi will face tough questions over the Commission’s handling of the Eurostat affair, when appears before a meeting of the heads of the European Parliament's political groups on Thursday.

The MEPs’ tone will largely depend on the outcome of two crucial reports, which is likely to determine whether they would call for any resignations of the Commissioners responsible.

One report will be from the Task Force set up last July to carry out a full-scale administrative enquiry aimed at assessing the personal responsibilities of other staff involved with any financial irregularities.

The other report from the Internal Audit Service which examined the awarding of contracts and grants by Eurostat in the years 1999 to 2002, might also indicate whether irregularities were present in other departments as well.

MEPs will also be presented with an update of the on-going investigations by the EU anti-fraud office, OLAF.

These reports will be discussed by the Commissioners at their weekly meeting tomorrow, but will only be presented to the leaders of the political groups and MEPs from the Budgetary Control Committee on Wednesday night.

Some MEPs are concerned that the Task Force report might only indicate that the problems dated before 1999. This would allow Commissioners to escape any of the responsibility.

News in Brief

  1. Canada and Wallonia end talks without Ceta deal
  2. Juncker hopes for Canada accord in 'next few days'
  3. Romania drops opposition to Ceta
  4. Difficulties remain on Ceta deal, says Walloon leader
  5. Brexit could lead to 'some civil unrest' in Northern Ireland
  6. ECB holds rates and continues quantitive easing programme
  7. Support for Danish People's Party drops, poll
  8. Spain's highest court overturns Catalan ban on bullfighting

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  2. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  3. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  4. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  5. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  6. EASPDJoin the Trip! 20 Years on the Road. Conference & Photo Exhibition on 19-21 October
  7. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  8. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  9. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  10. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  11. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  12. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity