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Action Plan 2004-2005
The action plan continues implementation of the June 2000 overall strategic approach and is geared to three priorities: reinforcing the regulatory framework for OLAF's activities, improving the information flow between the Member States and the Commission, and developing the criminal-law protection of the Community's financial interests.
Communication from the Commission of 9 August 2004 on Protecting the Communities' financial interests - Fight against fraud - Action Plan for 2004-2005 [COM(2004) 544 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The 2004-2005 action plan corresponds to the second stage of implementation of the overall strategic approach adopted in June 2000. It testifies to the Commission's ongoing commitment to the fight against fraud and constitutes one of its responses to the new challenges linked to the development of the Union in 2004 and 2005.
The action plan draws its legitimacy from Article 280 EC introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty. On that basis, on 15 May 2001 the Commission adopted a first action plan that saw a highly satisfactory rate of implementation.
Over the period 2001-2003, the legal framework for protecting the Community's financial interests and fighting fraud and all other illegal activities adversely affecting those interests was supplemented in order to enable effective action to be taken in the fields of fraud prevention and fraud-proofing of legislation, protecting the euro, making public procurement procedures more secure and setting up coordination structures in the ten new Member States and the candidate countries. Cooperation between the relevant administrations was enhanced, thanks in particular to the capacity for analysis of fraud and irregularities and the magistrates unit set up within the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF); such cooperation is assessed each year in the report provided for by Article 280 of the EC Treaty. In addition to various measures to prevent and counter corruption, the Commission performed an evaluation of OLAF's activities and put forward seventeen recommendations for reinforcing its structure and operations, while the Court of Justice confirmed on several occasions the legality and consistency of the inter-institutional framework for internal investigations. The criminal-law protection of the Community's financial interests was strengthened with the entry into force in October 2002 of the first Convention instruments for the fight against fraud. Major steps were also taken towards setting up a European Public Prosecutor's Office, and the objective was written into the constitutional treaty.
The new action plan follows the four main lines of action laid down in 2000 for the ensuing five years:
- an overall anti-fraud legislative policy: making regulations more effective and consistent;
- a new culture of cooperation: full participation of and collaboration between national and Community authorities;
- an inter-institutional approach to preventing and fighting corruption: making the European institutions more credible;
- strengthening the criminal-law dimension: adapting the legal and judicial framework for the protection of the financial interests of the European Union.
It also takes into account the new guidelines set out in the progress report on the activities of OLAF and the measures announced in the State of the Union Address delivered by the Commission President before the European Parliament on 18 November 2003.
In the context of an overall anti-fraud legislative policy, the action plan provides for the development of a culture of prevention and the tightening-up of legal texts through the following measures:
- defining OLAF's objectives and reinforcing its legal framework in order to consolidate its structure;
- stepping up cooperation with the Member States, with special reference to money laundering and VAT fraud;
- assessing the black list mechanism in the EAGGF Guarantee Section;
- definitively setting up the European Technical and Scientific Centre (ETSC) for protecting the euro against counterfeiting;
- continuing and adapting the Pericles programme.
Still within the same context, the aim is also to strengthen means of detection, controls and sanctions. To that end, the Commission plans to:
- clarify fraud investigation powers at Community level, particularly in the area of direct expenditure;
- extend the administrative penalty system, in particular to the areas of customs, the Structural Funds, direct expenditure and OLAF investigations;
- issue technical guidelines to national authorities wishing to supervise the authentification of euro coins in their territory.
Lastly, the plan is aimed at ensuring more effective management of administrative and financial follow-up, and thus provides for the following action:
- proposing amendments to the Regulation on the financing of the CAP in order to improve the recovery of sums wrongly paid under the EAGGF Guarantee Section;
- clearing the backlog of cases concerning irregularities reported before 1999.
As part of the second line of approach, which focuses on a new culture of cooperation, the intention is to enhance the use and analysis of information ("intelligence"). The Commission aims to establish better operational cooperation between customs administrations and to simplify the procedure for notifying irregularities in the areas of the Structural Funds, the Cohesion Funds and the EAGGF Guarantee Section.
In addition, to develop a closer partnership with Member States and non-member countries, the Commission plans to:
- strengthen relations with Member States by updating the Decision establishing the Advisory Committee for the Coordination of Fraud Prevention (COCOLAF);
- improve information from Member States on the follow-up given to OLAF's investigations;
- enhance synergy by drawing up an inventory of the services that the Commission and OLAF can provide to the institutions and Member States and implementing the multidisciplinary service platform;
- help the new Member States to reinforce their capacity for fighting fraud;
- reinforce anti-fraud coordination services in candidate countries;
- conclude negotiations with Switzerland on the fight against fraud;
- negotiate international agreements on mutual assistance in customs matters with non-member countries;
- include anti-counterfeiting clauses in cooperation and association agreements.
Rounding off this second line of approach, the Commission will evaluate anti-fraud measures on an ongoing basis through an inventory of new measures at Community and Member State level.
The third line of action, an inter-institutional approach to prevent and combat corruption, includes the following measures aimed at developing a culture of cooperation at all levels:
- examining the usefulness of adopting a memorandum of understanding between OLAF and the Commission and between the Commission and the other institutions;
- re-examining the memorandum of understanding between OLAF and the Investigation and Disciplinary Office (IDOC);
- setting up a high-level interdepartmental group to improve transparency and the flow of information between OLAF and other directorates-general.
To improve the legal framework for administrative investigations, the Commission intends to amend certain provisions in the interests of clarity and harmonisation.
The fourth and last line of approach focuses on enhancing the criminal-law judicial dimension. Here, the Commission plans to:
- draft a White Paper on strengthening the effectiveness of criminal prosecutions by establishing a European Public Prosecutor ;
- bring out a report on implementation of the Convention on the protection of the European Community's financial interests by the Member States;
- conclude a protocol with Europol;
- draw up with the Member States a practical guide for cooperation with criminal prosecution authorities.
To sum up, the new action plan highlights three top-priority objectives:
- reinforcing the regulatory framework of May 1999 for OLAF's activities and competencies;
- improving the flow of information between the Member States and the Commission;
- developing the criminal-law protection of the Community's financial interests with the Member States, following the proposal to create a European Public Prosecutor with competence for protecting the financial interests of the Union.
The measures planned for the period 2004-2005 take into account the findings of the progress report on the activities of OLAF and comprise actions that were not completed in the previous period as well as measures designed to respond to specific needs and reinforce OLAF's legal framework, in particular in the light of the weaknesses revealed by the Eurostat case.
In the document, the Commission also assesses the overall results of the 2001-2003 action plan, which can be regarded as positive.