Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Anti-fraud and Audit
Reflection Paper on the Reform of OLAF
EP Committee on Budgetary Control
Brussels, 12 July 2010
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here today to present to you the Reflection paper on the reform of the European Anti-fraud Office in line with the commitment that I have previously made to produce this paper before the summer break.
This paper has been requested by both the European Parliament and the Council and I consider it to be of outmost importance in order to help progress our reflection on the reform of OLAF.
We have an obligation to ensure that EU taxpayers' money is properly protected and that we take all possible measures to tackle fraud. These issues are of particular importance during times of economic difficulty. To meet these needs, OLAF has to be equipped with the appropriate tools to fight against fraud, corruption or any illegal activity that could threaten financial interests of the EU.
We share the common commitment to increase OLAF's efficiency and accountability while fully respecting its operational independence. The questions that require further discussion in the legislative procedure are questions about the modalities how to achieve this.
To this end, the purpose of our reflection paper is to identify convergent and divergent points in the positions of the Parliament and the Council regarding the Commission proposal of 2006 and to find the best possible options in order to achieve consensus on the main issues at stake.
All the Commission services concerned have taken part in the preparation of this paper and brought valuable contributions.
The paper has the following structure:
The cover note reflects on the issues raised by the three institutions. On many points all institutions agreed already. Others are still open.
Annex 1 to this paper outlines the possible options for taking forward the legislative procedure, focussing on the points where there is a clear disagreement between the institutions.
Annex 2 provides a table with the positions expressed by the three institutions and a reference to the place where the topic is dealt with in this reflection paper or in its Annex 1.
The Parliament and in particular the Rapporteur, Ms Graessle, has made a valuable contribution to the legislative procedure and rightly pointed out many issues that needed to be looked into in order to improve OLAF's efficiency and attain the purpose of this reform. Therefore I would like to express my gratitude to the Parliament and especially Ms Graessle for their efforts to improve OLAF.
I have looked carefully into all matters raised in the EP Resolution of 20 November 2008 and also some other concerns that have been raised since. Some of them are of particular importance, such as the strengthening of the rights of persons concerned by investigations, improving the efficiency of OLAF's investigations and issues regarding OLAF's cooperation with the other EU institutions, bodies and agencies, as well as with the competent authorities of the Member States, the appointment of the Director-General, the role of the Supervisory Committee.
For the purpose of structuring our reflection I propose to analyse the issues at stake distinguishing between:
the efficiency of OLAF's investigations (issues regarding the shortening the duration of investigations, improving the cooperation between OLAF and the EU institutions and OLAF and Member States' competent authorities, as well as with EUROPOL, EUROJUST, international organisations and third countries and the issue of he role of the director-general of OLAF);
the political governance (issues regarding the exchange of information between OLAF and the other institutions and bodies, the role of the Supervisory Committee, public information by OLAF on investigations, the rights of persons concerned by investigations, and the legality review of proceedings).
On all these issues I further submit specific options that may indicate possible solutions in our debate. Those you find in Annex 1 of the Reflection Paper. For example the role of the Supervisory Committee should not be limited to the monitoring of the respect of rules regarding the information exchange between OLAF and the EU institutions and the monitoring of the developments regarding the application of procedural guarantees. The Committee should also give separate opinions or recommendations concerning the identification of OLAF's investigations' priorities, the duration of investigations and the way in which the provisions and operational instructions contained in the OLAF manual are developed in the future.
Looking more generally at these issues, I think we face two main challenges:
one is to find the right balance between the strengthening the independence of OLAF and increased accountability and control standards and
the other is to set up the cooperation between OLAF and the other EU institutions and bodies and Member States competent authorities in such a way that it is compatible with the practical requirements of investigations. The solutions we propose therefore must leave room to a certain flexibility that will allow for an increased efficiency of investigations and will contribute to the shortening of their duration.
I would also like to point out that it is of particular importance to clearly define the roles of the Supervisory Committee and the Review Adviser in a way that there is no overlapping of their respective competences. You will see that some solutions are proposed to that end both in the Reflection paper and in the first Annex to it.
Some of the issues raised are still open and therefore require further discussion. For instance, we will have to seek together the best solutions regarding the dialogue between the institutions on the political governance of OLAF's investigative priorities, as well as the content of this dialogue. We will have also to see if other stakeholders –such as Europol and Eurojust - should be involved.
I am convinced however that on the basis of this paper we can find the best solutions to advance in the current legislative process.
When presenting to you the agenda on discharge, audit and anti-fraud for 2010-2014 about one month ago, I pointed out certain things concerning the anti-fraud policy that needed to be tackled in the near future – for example OLAF's improved cooperation with the Member States' competent authorities. You can find some proposals in that sense already in the Reflection Paper.
As you might have seen, the Reflection Paper proposes options along the lines of nearly all the proposals of the Parliament. There are still some – points where we are not so much in line, but I think, we have enough options to find a solution also for these points (for example the scope of the de minimis policy: do really all cases have to be referred to the national courts as the Parliament proposes?)
I am counting on your support for a constructive dialogue in the next weeks. The results of this dialogue will guide the Commission in drafting and presenting an amended proposal for the modification of Regulation 1073/1999 regarding investigations conducted by OLAF.
I sincerely hope that the Commission can adopt such an amended proposal even before the end of the year.
The aim would be to conclude the legislative process by the end of 2011.
I am looking forward to a productive debate with you.
Thank you for your attention.