The European Court of Auditors has called for extensive OLAF reform, saying the EU’s anti-fraud body has “inherent weaknesses”.
In a new report released yesterday, the auditors alleged a lack of shared information between authoritative bodies within the EU hampers effective prevention of fraud on OLAF’s part. The report particularly called attention to the responsibilities of the European Commission in implementing OLAF reform; and recommended the Commission assume a greater leadership role in administering action to combat fraud.
The auditors’ report found that the Commission was not in possession of “comprehensive and comparable data” on the levels, types and causes of detected fraud in EU budget spending. Without access to wide-ranging data of this nature, the Commission’s potential to effect OLAF reform and stifle budget fraud in the EU is necessarily at a disadvantage. In addition, the report suggested that OLAF’s current procedures of conducting administrative investigations of suspected fraud followed by criminal investigations were unwarrantedly time-consuming; with a low rate of successful prosecutions and widespread failure to recover fraudulently obtained funds.
Concrete recommendations put forward by the auditors included:
- Devising a robust system for the reporting and measurement of EU budget fraud;
- Creating a renewed anti-fraud strategy within the European Commission based on a comprehensive risk assessment;
- Boosting activities and tools designed to prevent fraud; and
- Implementing OLAF reform, according the anti-fraud body a strategic and oversight role in future endeavours to combat fraud in the EU.
Juhan Parts, the Member of the European Court of Auditors overseeing the report on OLAF reform, said: “The perception among seven out of 10 EU citizens is that fraud against EU budget happens rather frequently, even if the situation might be different. Unfortunately, anti-fraud activities to date are still insufficient. It is time for real action: the Commission should set up an effective system to prevent, detect and deter fraudsters. A reform of OLAF will be the litmus test for the Commission’s commitment to fighting fraud.”