The man who derailed the EU gravy train

Blowing the Whistle: One man's fight against fraud in the European Commission by Paul van Buitenen (Politico's, £12.99)
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The Independent Culture

Paul Van Buitenen is a hero of our time. The appointment committee for his auditor's job at the European Commission should have spotted that the lad was likely to cause trouble. His belief in the project was of a kind to to make doughty Euro-warriors such as Ted Heath seem lukewarm. Hence his anger when those corrupting the great venture were protected by highly placed, highly paid officials.

So what kind of person is it who almost brought about the sacking of the entire European Commission but had to settle for resignations? The author has a childlike belief in truth and justice, but his attractive naïveté has been combined with a realisation that working for the commission is like being thrust into a sack with more than one crazed rat. After repeated efforts to make his superiors act properly, Van Buitenen shopped the lot to a Green MEP and then the media. Copies of crucial papers had been lodged in a Swiss bank's strongroom for security.

While Van Buitenen details here the main areas of Euro-fraud of which he has direct knowledge, it was his exposure of the European Commissioner Edith Cresson that had the greatest impact. That action is likely to offer the best chance of convincing the European electorate that a new start has been made.

Cresson certainly gave the idea of the welfare state a new, Third-Way image. The French commissioner employed friends, who in turn employed their wives and children and children-in-law. The family members were quickly promoted to executive positions. Van Buitenen cites some officials on the gravy train being paid twice, and one billing for 38 working days a month.

Every effort was made to break Van Buitenen. For his efforts in exposing wide-scale fraud, he was suspended on half-pay. Those against whom a mass of evidence had been compiled led the attack and continued to draw (at least) full pay. Under media pressure, Van Buitenen was re-employed, though it did not become immediately obvious that - in a touch that Stalin would have appreciated - he had been consigned to the Building Directorate, where he neither wanted to be nor had relevant expertise.

Blowing the Whistle names some of the people against whom corruption charges should now be brought. What should be done? First, Cresson should be charged with corruption, and those of her staff listed in this book as ripping off European taxpayers should, as a minimum, repay the funds they have stolen. Next, the Independent Committee of Auditors is the only European institution to come out of these cover-ups without blame. If the European project is to survive in the long term, it will be because that one institution was prepared to tackle fraud without fear or favour. The auditors should be given the powers and staff to direct the community's counter-fraud programme.

The Van Buitenen story lists a number of officials who were appalled by the level of fraud and helped him to build his case. They personally ensured his survival as the commission's dirty tricks department got to work. To insist that these brave people should be given the whistle-blower protection that the British government insists operates in this country would be a fine example of British values working at the heart of Europe.

Lastly, efforts are being made to limit Neil Kinnock's role as the clean-up commissioner. Kinnock speaks and writes beautiful English. As his recent counter-fraud report is almost unintelligible, one must assume that it did not come from his pen. The key here is Paul van Buitenen. A British government keen on supporting Kinnock's anti-fraud drive would offer Van Buitenen a strategic role in Whitehall, devising a European counter-fraud strategy aimed at strengthening Kinnock's position. Such a move would mean stepping on the toes of more than a few fraudulent Eurocrats. Now there's a simple little test to begin turning the Government's tough-minded anti-fraud rhetoric into reality.

The reviewer is Labour MP for Birkenhead