MEPs approve new OLAF rules, Graessle calls on Kessler to explain illegal phone recordings

Anti-fraud European Commissioner welcomes vote in favour of new OLAF Regulation, which includes the strengthening of the respect of fundamental rights for any person under investigation by OLAF.

Members of the European Parliament today approved a new OLAF regulation, intended to create a stronger EU anti-fraud office. The new OLAF Regulation will enter into force on 1 August 2013.

The new regulations, drawn up by German MEP Inge Graessle, stipulate that while OLAF's director-general will continue to be responsible for deciding and opening any investigations that OLAF carries out, his term would be non-renewable after seven years, to reinforce his independence.

Further amendments by Graessle to strengthen the Supervisory Committee's power, to have direct access to the OLAF investigation, were not passed because the report was passed by an insufficient majority: 302 votes in favour, 247 votes against and 36 abstenstions. Graessle needed the absolute majority of all sitting MEPs to have the amendments pass.

"MEPs need to learn more abour the illegal phone recordings of the EU anti-fraud office OLAF in the Dalli investigation. A large majority of 638 MEPs today called on OLAF to inform the European Parliament about their legal basis and whether OLAF could record telephone conversations between individuals without their prior consent... OLAD director-general Giovanni Kessler must declare who ordered the phone recordings in the Dalli case, and why," Graessle said.

Graessle was disappointed by the rejection of the amendments to enhance the OLAF supervisory committee. "A slight majority, led by the Social Democrats, worked to strengthen the monitoring committee to improve the observance of fundamental rights. You buckled in fear of the Council and you carry responsibility for any future failures," Graessle told MEPs.

In another report, this time by MEP Derek Vaughan on the protection of the EU's financial interests and fight against fraud, Graessle's amendment to have OLAF state the legal basis for the recording of the telephone calls, was passed by the European Parliament.

Commission reaction

"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," EU Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta said.

"It will also ensure that OLAF has full cooperation from all those who are central to the EU fight against fraud."

Šemeta said the expected reform of OLAF would not only create a stronger EU anti-fraud office, but would also provide stronger protection of European taxpayers' money.

"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," the Commissioner said.

The Commission is now pushing for a European Public Prosecutors' Office, with judicial power at EU level to protect the fundamental right of the procedural rights of individuals who would be under investigation.

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 or 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 or 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.

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 seven 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.

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.