Letter: Fraud in the European Union: who is to blame?

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The Independent Online
Sir: Can I make one or two comments following Douglas Hurd's remarks about fraud in the European Union ('Hurd line dismays pro-Europe Tories', 8 March)?

In July last year, at the Council of Ministers' first reading of the 1994 EU budget, the council made sweeping cuts throughout the budget. However, when it came to agriculture, which accounts for half of the pounds 56bn budget of the EU, the only cut they made was to take pounds 20m off the anti-fraud line, at the insistence of the British government. At their second reading, the European Parliament had allocated funds to create 50 extra posts in the anti-fraud unit; they voted against this also.

Mr Hurd should remember that under the British presidency, the Edinburgh Council insisted that the European Parliament continue to meet in Strasbourg, which means Parliament pays about pounds 100m per year for this decision, rather than being centralised in Brussels. He should remember that when it comes to fraud, member states have the prime responsibility for preventing, detecting and prosecuting fraud against the Union budget and for recovering sums unduly paid out.

When it comes to the Common Agricultural Policy, the Council of Ministers makes the decisions, not the European Parliament. Two recent Court of Auditors special reports have once again made profound statements about the CAP. One, on tobacco, where we spend pounds 1bn per year, says 'financing tobacco production is a misuse of public funds'. The other, on controls of irregularities and frauds in the agricultural areas, says: 'The complexity of the relevant commodity markets and the size of export refund rates compared with the world market prices, means an environment which is vulnerable to irregularities and facilitates fraud.'

While the European Parliament is scrutinising both these reports, neither will be discussed by the Agricultural Council. The member states, and especially Britain, have the power to do something about this. It's a pity they don't have the political will.

Yours faithfully,


MEP for Merseyside East (Lab)

St Helens, Merseyside

10 March

The writer is General Rapporteur for the 1994 and 1995 budgets.