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Strasbourg, 3 July 2013
Commissioner Šemeta welcomes European Parliament vote on OLAF reform
Following the European Parliament's vote in favour of the new OLAF Regulation today, Commissioner Šemeta said:
"The reform of OLAF will create a stronger EU anti-fraud office, and thereby stronger protection of European taxpayers' money. I warmly welcome the European Parliament's support for the new OLAF Regulation today. This will cement important changes in how OLAF works, making it more efficient and more accountable, while safeguarding its independence. It will also ensure that OLAF has full cooperation from all those who are central to the EU fight against fraud."
"Today is the first step in an ambitious process. I have promised the Parliament and the Council that I will look at where further improvements can be made to OLAF, beyond what was agreed today. And I will do this without delay, taking into account important discussions in recent weeks, as well as our plans for a European Public Prosecutors' Office."
An important aspect of the OLAF reform agreed today is the strengthening of the procedural guarantees (i.e. respect of fundamental rights) for any person under investigation by OLAF.
Provisions to safeguard fundamental rights are currently set out in OLAF's internal rules of procedure. The revised Regulation will now enshrine these procedural rights in EU law, giving them a full and proper legal basis. These include the right for the person to be informed of his/her rights ahead of the interview, to be informed about the issue under investigation and to make their views known before conclusions are drawn up, the right to be assisted by a person of his/her choice and the right to use the EU official language of their choice.
In addition, the reform provides for a quality control unit in OLAF to check, amongst other things, the legality of actions during investigations.
Clarifying roles and responsibilities
The OLAF reform clarifies the roles of the OLAF Director General and the Supervisory Committee.
OLAF's Director General will continue to be responsible for deciding and opening any investigations that OLAF carries out. The Director General's term will be non-renewable after 7 years, to reinforce his independence. In addition, the new Regulation includes a clear procedure for replacing the Director General at the end of his mandate.
The Supervisory Committee will continue to monitor OLAF's activities, particularly to ensure that investigations are carried out in full independence. The Regulation clarifies that the Committee should carry out a systemic (rather than case-by-case) analysis on OLAF's work, including monitoring procedures related to fundamental rights. OLAF will have to inform the Supervisory Committee if an investigation is not completed within 12 months and explain why it needs an extension of this deadline. The Supervisory Committee should be informed periodically of cases which are forwarded to national authorities for follow-up.
The OLAF reform will intensify cooperation between OLAF and Member State authorities and provide for greater information exchange on cases and the related prosecutions. Each Member State is asked to designate a contact point, which would facilitate the cooperation of national authorities with OLAF. This closer cooperation should facilitate, amongst other things, better judicial follow-up by all Member States on OLAF investigations. Cooperation with the European Police Office (Europol) and the EU’s judicial cooperation unit (Eurojust) is equally important. OLAF will be given the mandate to conclude administrative arrangements with these bodies, as well as with non-EU countries.
The new Regulation also foresees closer cooperation between OLAF, the Supervisory Committee and the EU institutions. There will be an annual exchange of views between all these parties on OLAF's anti-fraud policy.
The new OLAF Regulation will enter into force on 1 August 2013.
Meanwhile, the Commission has said that it is ready to also work on a second tier of reforms for OLAF, in the context of the upcoming proposal for a European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO). This would be a chance to take into account systemic issues that have been raised by the Parliament and Supervisory Committee in recent weeks.