EPP lashes out at European Commission's OLAF reform

EPP says European Commission’s proposals to reform anti-fraud office are ‘wrong and contradictory’

The European People’s Party (EPP) will reject the European Commission’s proposals to reform the EU’s anti-fraud office unless changes are made to guarantee its independence.

EPP spokesperson Inge Graessle said that the commission’s proposals to amend the current regulation on OLAF, the EU's body for fighting fraud, is “ill-devised,” adding that while large part of the commission's analysis is to the point, “the conclusions are wrong and contradictory."

In recent months OLAF and its director-general Giovanni Kessler were in the spotlight following its investigations on former EU commissioner John Dalli, which ultimately led to his resignation.

Dalli resigned on 16 October, 2012, over claims by OLAF that he may have known of an attempt to solicit a bribe from Swedish Match, in a bid to reverse the EU ban on the sale of snus.

Just over a year ago, Graessle, the European Parliament's rapporteur on OLAF's legal powers, had called for the resignation of Kessler, over suggestions that OLAF asked witnesses to present the public and the European Parliament with a misleading version of events into the Dalli saga.

"It seems that the Commission has finally realised that the protection of the basic rights of persons subject to OLAF investigations is insufficient,” Graessle said.

While noting that only one year ago, the commission had rejected such a conclusion, the German MEP said “the case of former Health Commissioner John Dalli has demonstrated the shortcomings very clearly. What I cannot understand are the conclusions drawn by the Commission from that experience.”

She said the commission’s proposals suggest limiting the powers of OLAF's director-general and install a 'Controller of Procedural Guarantees' which would instruct the OLAF chief on how to deal with members of the EU institutions.

“This would be the end of OLAF as an independent body," Graessle said, adding that "it is ridiculous to extend the Controller's competence to Heads of State and Government and to the Council of Ministers. One cannot circumvent the principle of immunity."

Moreover, the EPP spokesperson said that it is absolutely unclear what means of appeal would exist against a controller who is at the same time an investigative authority.

“What is also unacceptable is the overlapping of competences of the Controller and the OLAF Supervisory Committee. Besides, this would lead to additional costs of around one million euros per year."

"It is obvious that Parliament will have to amend this proposal substantially. Otherwise, I will have to recommend to colleagues to reject what is on the table. As it stands now, it would pave the way for a new 'Santer scandal'," she said.

In 1999 the Europen Commission led by the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Santer, became the first to resign en masse due to allegations of mismanagement and corruption.