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Algirdas Šemeta

EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud

"Corruption as a threat to the financial interests of the European Union"

European Parliament – EPP Public Hearing

Brussels, 15 September 2010

Mrs. Chair, Honourable Members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me express my gratitude to the organisers of this event who constantly keep an eye on the problem of corruption and raise this important issue that merits our attention. I am happy that I can share my views with you, as the Commissioner responsible for the fight against fraud.

Corruption is a serious threat to the financial interests of the European Union. In order to step up the fight against fraud, corruption and any other illegal activity affecting the financial interests of the European Community, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) was established by the Commission 10 years ago. OLAF plays and will play a major role in the fight against corruption. That is why I would like firstly to say a few words about OLAF in this context. Secondly, I will turn to the renewed anti-fraud strategy which is now being developed, and to conclude, I will turn to crosscutting issues concerning the fight against corruption.

1. The role of OLAF

The EU institutions and bodies can benefit from OLAF's operational experience in the entire area of fighting corruption. The first communication of fraud-proofing adopted by the Commission in 2001 focused on legislation and contract management. Given the wide operational experience gained by OLAF meanwhile, the Commission issued in 2007 a new strategy on fraud proofing built on lessons learnt. These lessons are made available to Commission departments and to EU institutions and bodies. The work of OLAF guarantees that the Commission's policy on the fight against fraud and corruption is well connected with practical experience gained through investigations.

One of the latest achievements in this context is the so-called "Fraud Notification System" of OLAF which is online since 1 March 2010: Corruption and fraud can now be reported via the Internet, even anonymously. The Fraud Notification System will make it easier and more secure for vigilant citizens to report suspicious cases to OLAF.

The cooperation between OLAF and other bodies and institutions is also crucial: I am thinking in particular about the Commission's Investigation and Disciplinary Office (IDOC), to which OLAF can address on for disciplinary follow-up measures, as well as about Eurojust and Europol. OLAF has already working arrangements with Eurojust to facilitate the cooperation in practice. Regarding Europol, a new Framework Decision is applicable as of 2010 which stipulates that Europol shall conclude working arrangements with OLAF.

OLAF’s main mission is to protect the financial interests of the EU. OLAF focuses therefore on fraud whatever the policy or the management mode is. This has also wide-ranging external relations implications, taking into account that the EU is the largest donor of development assistance (€55 billion foreseen for 2010 worldwide). OLAF has also working arrangements in this area with third countries.

In this context I would also like to underline the importance of new ways of international cooperation: The International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) in Austria was established at the beginning of September. The Academy – the first of its kind – aims to build knowledge and skills for those battling in the front-line against corruption, thus creating a new generation of top-notch experts in the field. OLAF has seconded one employee to the Transition team who is mainly working on the development of the academic concept.

As you know, I presented a reflection paper on the reform of OLAF to the CONT Committee before summer. There are still areas where the work of OLAF, and therefore also the fight against corruption, can be made even more efficient. I sincerely hope that we can reach an agreement with the European Parliament and the Council in the next months. We all agree that OLAF should be able to work as efficiently and effectively as possible. Therefore I am confident that we can reach an agreement on this very important reform of OLAF.

2. Let me turn now to the planned renewed Anti-Fraud Strategy of the Commission, which is crucial for the prevention of fraud and corruption:

Based on risk analysis, audits, best practice and drawing on experience gained meanwhile, the policy of the Commission against fraud has to be streamlined and adapted to current needs. The co-operation between OLAF and some DGs (in particular in the field of information and best practices) needs to be further extended throughout the Commission. Some DGs have developed a specific anti-fraud strategy, but not yet all. OLAF has started to prepare risk assessments for geographical regions. The Internal Audit Service has already put an emphasis on fraud prevention measures in its strategic planning for 2010- 2012.

Therefore, a coherent framework for anti-fraud strategies within the Commission will be developed during my mandate which leaves enough room for tailor-made instruments adapted to the individual needs of each DG and service. This renewed anti-fraud strategy will also contribute to a more effective fight against corruption. The work on this strategy has started now, and I will certainly report to the European Parliament on the progress in this matter.

I would like OLAF to play a central role in this work on a renewed anti-fraud strategy, together with other Commission services and EU institutions. We should also take inspiration from the experience of our partner institutions in Member States, international organisations, experts in the private sector and civil society.

3. To fight fraud and corruption we cannot rely only on controls. The fight against fraud and corruption must be considered as a cross-cutting issue.

This renewed anti-fraud strategy will be complementary to the anti-corruption policy that is to be developed within the services responsible for home affairs. We will also take the opportunity to look at our internal procedures and systems when implementing the UN Convention against Corruption.

If you ask me about concrete measures we could work on, without being exhaustive, I can point out the following:

  • Simplified rules on distribution of funds, in particular on public procurement and grants. We may require from beneficiaries, especially companies, to raise their standards in fraud prevention. However, on the other hand, we should make their life easier when applying for public funds.

  • We could examine certain programmes of subsidies that directly support individual competitors.

  • We have to prevent further the conflicts of interests of those who distribute the funds and are the beneficiaries at the same time (such as representatives of municipalities in the area of the structural funds).

  • We should discuss how we can further motivate potential informants to come forward with information. We have also to distribute more actively information on institutions fighting fraud and corruption among the public.

  • Finally, as you mention in your Written Declaration, we have to use dissuasive and more diversified sanctions, such as financial penalties or disciplinary sanctions. We should not refer every minor case to the judiciary, especially when the procedures are lengthy and the results uncertain.

I believe that the current Commission will further intensify the anti- fraud and the anti-corruption efforts and raise our standards. I will certainly try to contribute.

Thank you for your attention!

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