Overall strategic approach
The aim of this communication is to develop an overall anti-fraud strategy around four challenges: an overall anti-fraud legislative policy, a new culture of operational cooperation, an inter-institutional approach to prevent and combat corruption and the enhancement of the criminal law dimension.
Commission communication of 28 June 2000 - Protection of the Communities’ financial interests - The fight against fraud - For an overall strategic approach [COM (2000) 358 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
Given that the protection of the Community budget is the responsibility of the European institutions and the Member States, the Commission’s aim in this communication is to develop an overall strategic approach based on coordination, the key concept of Article 280 of the EC Treaty, with a view to affording effective and equivalent protection of financial interests Community-wide.
Since 1994, the Community approach to the fight against fraud has been pro-active and designed to develop a legislative framework covering all areas of protection of financial interests. This framework includes:
- the convention on the protection of the European Communities' financial interests (1995) and its Protocols of 1996 and 1997;
- the Convention on the fight against corruption involving officials of the European Communities or officials of Member States of the European Union (1997);
- the Regulation relating to the protection of the European Communities' financial interests (1995) and the Regulation concerning on-the-spot checks and inspections carried out by the Commission in order to protect the European Communities’ financial interests against fraud and other irregularities (1996);
- the establishment of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in 1999.
In addition, the Commission, in response to its White Paper on reform, has decentralised the financial control function, set up an internal audit service and established working groups involving OLAF and all Commission departments.
Enlargement, the area of freedom, security and justice referred to in the Treaty of Amsterdam and the gradual abolition of national borders call for an overall and integrated approach based on a strengthened culture of cooperation.
As part of this overall approach, the Commission is proposing a multiannual strategy around four main strategic guidelines to meet the principal challenges.
The first of these relates to an overall legislative anti-fraud policy in four parts:
- prevention by means of clear and easily applicable legislation and including sufficiently dissuasive provisions. The Commission also hopes to increase the accountability of officials and is proposing that OLAF, the national authorities and professional circles be involved in prevention;
- 0detection by strengthening the means and legal instruments for detection, controls and sanctions. The Commission therefore recommends continuing the effort to define precisely irregular conduct and illegal activities with a view to facilitating cooperation and the effective application of penalties. At the same time, it advocates extending information exchanges and control measures, in particular in connected or especially vulnerable sectors such as money laundering, public procurement and the granting of subsidies. This is to be backed up by an extended system of administrative penalties;
- follow-up by ensuring more effective management of administrative and financial follow-up in order inter alia to improve the recovery of unduly received or evaded amounts. The financial correction instruments at the Community’s disposal should also be applied with the aim of motivating Member States to put in place effective national control systems;
- cooperation in order to establish a single legal basis for combating fraud with a view to simplifying and clarifying the rules on participation in national investigations. Provision also needs to be made for a cooperation and mutual assistance system to fight fraud that is similar to that which already exists in certain areas such as the agricultural and customs policies, while cooperation with applicant countries and non-member countries needs to be strengthened.
The second challenge is to create a new culture of operational cooperation. The Commission is attempting to become more pro-active in its activities on the ground. This involves having an overall view of the economic and criminal environment and enhancing the exploitation and analysis of intelligence. For that purpose, technology and the information sources available must be improved and, in particular, OLAF must serve as a crossroads for gathering and analysing information and as a Community platform of services. Strengthened cooperation with the applicant countries is mentioned again. Lastly, the Commission undertakes to pursue a policy of permanent evaluation of anti-fraud action in order to measure the progress made.
The third challenge is to adopt an inter-institutional approach to prevent and combat corruption. The credibility of Community policies must be strengthened by safeguarding the integrity of the European public service and of the members of the institutions. OLAF must:
- cooperate closely on the basis of loyal cooperation and consistency of the duties of each of the participants in the fight against fraud;
- contribute more to training measures focusing on training and awareness-raising activities involving all staff, in particular those responsible for procurement or grants and providing a system of values;
- encourage transparency and the duty to communicate;
- complement its task of conducting administrative investigations with fair and effective penalties. Office action will have to be geared to the objective of "zero tolerance" and compliance with information obligations will be crucial for its effectiveness.
The fourth and last challenge is to enhance the criminal judicial dimension. National criminal policies should be adapted to the new Treaty provisions and assistance sought from the European institutions to improve the cooperation function. The Community already possesses the legal instruments to improve the detection of offences and provide the national judicial authorities with the means to process cases of fraud under criminal law. However, they are often not used because of obstacles such as the non-compatibility of national legal systems or technical specifications.
Lastly, in order to resolve problems arising from the various national systems regarding criminal offences linked to fraud, the conditions under which judicial assistance operates must be improved. OLAF must therefore develop its liaison and expertise function in this area.