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Protecting taxpayers' money: European Parliament committee endorses Commission proposal to fight fraud against the EU budget
The European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) backed yesterday with a large majority (19 votes for, 1 against and 0 abstentions) the European Commission's proposal for a Directive on the protection of the EU's financial interests (IP/12/767).
"EU money must not be pocketed by criminals. The logic is simple: If you have a "federal budget" – with money coming from the 28 EU Member States – then you also need federal laws to protect this budget. Let's be clear: if we, the EU, don't protect our federal budget, nobody will do it for us," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "I applaud the work of Tadeusz Zwiefka in pushing forward this proposal. I am now calling on the rapporteurs in the Civil Liberties Committee, Fernando Lopéz Aguilar and in the Budgetary Control Committee, Ingeborg Grässle, who have been very supportive in this process, to quickly present their report. It is urgent to strengthen the protection of the EU budget against the actions of criminals."
The new EU-wide rules as proposed by the European Commission in July last year will do two things: first, introduce common definitions of fraud throughout the EU, making sure that fraud against the EU budget is considered a crime everywhere in the EU. Second, set a minimum level of sanctions regarding fraud against the EU budget, including imprisonment, in order to deter fraudsters.
The opinion of the rapporteur, Member of the European Parliament Tadeusz Zwiefka, on which members of the JURI Committee voted yesterday, is a strong endorsement of the Commission's approach of using criminal law to fight fraud. It is also an important signal of progress in the institutional procedure of the draft legislation.
The JURI Committee backed the main elements of the Commission's proposed Directive on the protection of the EU's financial interests through criminal law, including the proposed minimum sanction of six months of imprisonment for those who defraud the EU budget.
Next steps: Following the JURI Committee's vote, the lead Committees (the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee and the Budgetary Control Committee) will vote on the report by rapporteur Tadeusz Zwiefka.
Following this, the European Parliament will vote in plenary (in first reading) on the Commission proposal, which usually means approving the proposal subject to some amendments. If the Council, acting by a qualified majority, approves all Parliament amendments, the law is adopted.
Protecting the financial interests of the EU means protecting the EU budget, and therefore European taxpayers' money. Data collected from Member States reveal fraud averaging 500 million euro in each year while the real figure is potentially higher. Putting in place a stronger system for deterring offenders, and investigating and prosecuting offences against the EU budget will better protect taxpayers' money and make it easier to recover funds. This will save money for taxpayers at a time when budgets everywhere are under pressure.
On 11 July 2012, the European Commission proposed a Directive on the protection of the EU's financial interests, to fight fraud against the EU budget by means of criminal law and to better safeguard taxpayers' money. The Directive creates a more harmonised framework for prosecuting and punishing crimes involving the EU budget so that criminals no longer exploit differences between national legal systems. The Directive provides for common definitions of offences against the EU budget and for minimum sanctions, including imprisonment in serious cases, and for a common level playing field for periods within which it is possible to investigate and prosecute offences – the so-called statutes of limitation (IP/12/767).
For more information
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
European Commission – Criminal law policy:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU