Het jaarlijks activiteitenverslag 2014 van het Comité van toezicht van het OLAF heeft ertoe geleid dat het Parlement zich ernstige zorgen maakt over een aantal kwesties. Uit het verslag blijkt dat er sprake is van problemen met betrekking tot de onafhankelijkheid van het Comité van toezicht, de naleving van de OLAF-verordening door het OLAF en de arbeidsregelingen tussen het OLAF en het Comité van toezicht. Het verslag laat twijfel bestaan over de mate van doeltreffendheid van het OLAF voor wat de bescherming van de financiële belangen van de Unie betreft.
– Het OLAF heeft op dezelfde dag 423 dossiers geopend via een enkel besluit van zijn directeur-generaal, hetgeen in strijd is met de wettelijke voorwaarde voor het starten van een OLAF-onderzoek.
– Het Comité van toezicht heeft er voortdurend op gewezen dat het niet in staat is toezicht te houden op de onafhankelijkheid van het OLAF, zijn onderzoekstaak, de toepassing van de procedurewaarborgen en de duur van de onderzoeken, vanwege de gebrekkige toegang tot de vereiste informatie.
– Er bestaat een fundamenteel verschil van mening voor wat de perceptie van de rol van het Comité van toezicht betreft.
Mr President, Vice- President Georgieva regrets that she is not able to participate in this debate tonight. I therefore represent the Commission on this occasion.
The fight against fraud is of the utmost importance for the Commission, and I know that it is the same for Parliament. In this context, Parliament has repeatedly shown great interest in the work of the European Anti-Fraud Office and its Supervisory Committee. Most recently, when the Supervisory Committee presented its annual activity report covering the year 2014, this gave rise to discussions in the Committee on Budgetary Control. Some honourable Members have stated that the report identified serious deficiencies in the work of OLAF.
The Commission would like to emphasise that the role of the Supervisory Committee is to reinforce OLAF’s independence as an investigative board. The Supervisory Committee can identify issues which, in its view, require further improvements with the aim of making OLAF stronger in its core mission. In this context, the Commission has received three oral questions covering matters referred to in the Supervisory Committee activity report or in other discussions concerning the Supervisory Committee of OLAF. Furthermore, four motions for a resolution touching on the same subjects were tabled by different political groups.
Allow me to elaborate on the matters raised in the oral questions. The first is the opening of 423 cases on 12 February 2012. The second is the Commission’s position with regard to ensuring that OLAF complies with the legal requirements placed on it in the OLAF Regulation.
OLAF has been criticised for the opening of a large number of cases, by a single decision, in February 2012. The Commission has been informed that this decision was taken transparently; that all investigative units and OLAF management were involved; and that the decision and its impact on OLAF’s resources were transparently reported on in OLAF’s annual report for 2012—2013. The decision was due to internal reorganisation and the need to clear a backlog. The Commission also notes that OLAF does not agree with the Supervisory Committee that the opening of the cases failed to meet the legal requirement for the opening of an investigation. OLAF does not share the Supervisory Committee’s legal assessment on this matter.
The Commission emphasises that the opening of investigations is an investigative act, that OLAF is fully independent in those acts, and that the Commission is required to respect the independence of OLAF in its investigative functions. The decisions that the European Union and national authorities may adopt in the follow-up to OLAF investigations are subject to judicial review. It should, furthermore, be noted that it is not the role of the Supervisory Committee to pass judgment on the legality of individual investigative acts, as recognised by the Supervisory Committee itself.
My third point concerns the Commission’s perception of the working arrangements and working relations between OLAF and the Supervisory Committee, and its intention to facilitate those relations and to make OLAF more efficient. The Commission is aware that OLAF and the Supervisory Committee are working very hard to improve their relations. In particular, OLAF and the Supervisory Committee are currently reviewing their working arrangements in order to align them better to the needs of the Supervisory Committee.
The Commission, and in particular Vice-President Georgieva, has regularly raised with both sides issues linked to the relations between OLAF and the Supervisory Committee. The Commission’s aim is, of course, to facilitate and foster good cooperation and constructive dialogue. It should be noted, however, that OLAF and the Supervisory Committee are two independent bodies which are already in dialogue and work together with the same aim. The Commission can offer its advice and support, but it is the responsibility of OLAF and its Supervisory Committee to develop sound and constructive cooperation.
Referring, in its activity report, to the independence of its secretariat, the Supervisory Committee mentions legal requirements. The OLAF Regulation specifies that the Supervisory Committee secretariat shall be provided by the Office in close consultation with the Supervisory Committee. In its most recent opinion, No 1/2015, on OLAF’s budget 2016 – an opinion not yet shared with the institutions – the Supervisory Committee recognises that the current arrangements with OLAF come close to sufficient financial autonomy for the Supervisory Committee and its secretariat.
As stated by my colleague Vice-President Georgieva at Parliament’s March 2015 part-session, the Commission is currently exploring ways in which it can further strengthen the independence of the Supervisory Committee in its human resources and budget management within the existing framework. Fuller formal independence of the Supervisory Committee and secretariat, in terms of both budget and human resources, would, however, require the legislator to amend OLAF Regulation 883/2015. In view of the international role of both OLAF and the Supervisory Committee in the protection of the European Union’s financial interests, the relations between OLAF and the Supervisory Committee are, of course, a matter of interest to Parliament, the Council and the Commission. We would like to propose that the subject be discussed further in the context of the annual interinstitutional exchange of views provided for in the OLAF Regulation. The next exchange of views will take place in September 2015.
Fourthly, on the question of whether the Commission is to propose an action plan to resolve serious deficiencies highlighted in the Supervisory Committee annual report, the Commission is of the opinion that it is excessive to consider that the Supervisory Committee has identified serious deficiencies. It is the very purpose of the Supervisory Committee to identify issues which, in its view, require further improvement in the work of the Office, and to make the corresponding recommendations.
Many of the issues raised by the Supervisory Committee in its activity report refer to OLAF’s investigative activities, such as the opening of the 423 cases in 2012, the investigative policy priorities and the participation of the office in the Commission’s Clearing House meetings.
Last week, on 2 June 2015, OLAF presented its annual report for the year 2014. It reports on the efficacy and results of its investigations, providing a positive picture of its achievements. It is for OLAF, as an independent investigative body, to give proper follow-up and to inform the Supervisory Committee and the institutions thereof.
The Commission has been informed by OLAF that it has responded to, or is in the process of responding to, many of the Supervisory Committee’s recommendations and requests. As mentioned by the Chair of the Supervisory Committee during his speech at the meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Control on 4 May, the important professional work carried out by OLAF deserves all our appreciation, and the statutory role of the Supervisory Committee is to improve this work and to contribute to trust in OLAF’s investigative activities.