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Procedure : 2016/2097(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A8-0159/2017

Texts tabled :

A8-0159/2017

Debates :

PV 15/05/2017 - 15
CRE 15/05/2017 - 15

Votes :

PV 16/05/2017 - 6.6
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P8_TA(2017)0206

Texts adopted
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Tuesday, 16 May 2017 - Strasbourg Final edition
Annual report 2015 on the protection of EU’s financial interests – Fight against fraud
P8_TA(2017)0206A8-0159/2017

European Parliament resolution of 16 May 2017 on the Annual report 2015 on the protection of the EU’s financial interests – Fight against fraud (2016/2097(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 325(5) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to its resolutions on previous annual reports of the Commission and of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF),

–  having regard to the Commission report of 14 July 2016 entitled ‘Protection of the EU’s financial interests – Fight against fraud – 2015 Annual Report’ (COM(2016)0472) and to the accompanying staff working documents (SWD(2016)0234, SWD(2016)0235, SWD(2016)0236, SWD(2016)0237, SWD(2016)0238, SWD(2016)0239),

–  having regard to the OLAF annual report 2015 and the 2015 Activity Report of the OLAF Supervisory Committee,

–  having regard to the annual report of the Court of Auditors on the implementation of the budget concerning the financial year 2015, together with the institutions’ replies,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 18 July 2016 entitled ‘Protection of the EU budget to end 2015’ (COM(2016)0486),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 250/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 establishing a programme to promote activities in the field of the protection of the financial interests of the European Union (Hercule III programme) and repealing Decision No 804/2004/EC(1),

–  having regard to the Commission proposal of 17 July 2013 for a Council regulation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (COM(2013)0534),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 883/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 September 2013 concerning investigations conducted by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and replacing Regulation (EC) No 1073/1999 of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Regulation (Euratom) No 1074/1999(2),

–  having regard to the Commission proposal of 11 July 2012 for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (COM(2012)0363),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002(3),

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 October 2016 on the fight against corruption and follow-up of the CRIM resolution(4),

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 2988/95 of 18 December 1995 on the protection of the European Communities’ financial interests(5),

–  having regard to the 2015 Report on the VAT Gap commissioned by the Commission and on the Commission communication of 7 April 2016 on an action plan on VAT (COM(2016)0148),

–  having regard to the judgment of the European Court of Justice in Case C-105/14, Taricco and Others(6),

–  having regard to the European Court of Auditors Special Report No 24/2015 of 3 March 2016 entitled ‘Tackling intra-Community VAT fraud: More action needed’,

–  having regard to its resolution of 14 February 2017 on the role of whistleblowers in the protection of the EU’s financial interests(7),

–  having regard to Directive 2014/24/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on public procurement and repealing Directive 2004/18/EC(8),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control and the opinions of the Committee on Regional Development and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (A8-0159/2017),

A.  whereas de jure the Member States and the Commission have shared responsibility for implementing approximately 80 % of the Union’s budget; whereas, however, de facto the Commission and the Member States spending those resources are responsible for having an overview of those projects vis-à-vis providing a certain level of control; whereas the Member States are primarily responsible for the collection of own resources, inter alia in the form of VAT and customs duties;

B.  whereas the protection of the EU’s financial interests should be a key element of the EU’s policy to increase the confidence of citizens by ensuring that their money is used properly and in accordance with the ‘best use of every euro’ approach;

C.  whereas achieving good performance with simplification processes involves regularly assessing inputs, outputs, outcomes/results and impacts through performance audits;

D.  whereas Article 325(2) of the TFEU states that ‘Member States shall take the same measures to counter fraud affecting the financial interests of the Union as they take to counter fraud affecting their own financial interests’;

E.  whereas Article 325(3) of the TFEU states that Member States ‘shall organise, together with the Commission, close and regular cooperation between the competent authorities’;

F.  whereas the diversity of legal and administrative systems in the Member States presents a challenging environment in which to overcome irregularities and combat fraud; and whereas the Commission should therefore step up its efforts to ensure that the fight against fraud is implemented effectively and produces more tangible and more satisfactory results;

G.  whereas the use of sensitive data is emerging ever more clearly as a factor contributing to fraud;

H.  whereas VAT is a major and growing source of revenue for Member States, yielding almost EUR 1 trillion in 2014, and contributing EUR 17 667 million to EU own resources or 12,27 % of the EU’s total revenue in 2014;

I.  whereas the current VAT system, in particular as applied to cross-border transactions, is vulnerable to fraud and tax avoidance strategies, in which Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud, commonly called carousel fraud, alone was responsible for VAT revenue losses of approximately EUR 50 billion in 2014;

J.  whereas the VAT gap amounts to approximately EUR 159,5 billion in 2014 and varies from less than 5 % to over 40 % depending on the country in question;

K.  whereas corruption affects all Member States, particularly in the form of organised crime, and not only burdens the EU economy, but undermines democracy and the rule of law all across Europe; whereas, however, the exact figures are unknown, as the Commission has decided not to publish data in the report on the EU’s anti-corruption policy;

L.  whereas fraud is an example of purposeful wrongdoing and is a criminal offence, and whereas an irregularity is a failure to comply with a rule;

M.  whereas fluctuation in the number of irregularities can be linked to the progression of the multiannual programming cycles (with higher levels of detection at the end of cycles due to the closure of programmes) as well as to late reporting by certain Member States which tend to report most of the irregularities of previous multiannual programmes at once;

Detection and reporting of irregularities

1.  Notes with concern that the number of all fraudulent and non-fraudulent irregularities reported in 2015 increased significantly, by 36 %, leading to an increase of 5 876 cases in the number of registered irregularities compared with 2014 and amounting to 22 349 cases due to certain specific situations in the cohesion policy area in two Member States; notes that even though the number of irregularities increased in 2015 the sum involved (EUR 3,21 billion) fell slightly, by 1 %, compared with 2014 (EUR 3,24 billion);

2.  Is concerned that despite the positive drop of 11 % in the number of irregularities reported as fraudulent, from 1 649 in 2014 to 1 461 in 2015, the sums involved increased by 18 % from EUR 538 million in 2014 to EUR 637,6 million in 2015; notes that false or falsified documents and declarations constituted the most common types of fraud, amounting to 34 %, while the largest proportion of irregularities reported as fraudulent (52 %) was detected in the agricultural sector, and the highest percentage of detection of all fraudulent irregularities (75 %) was made by the administrative control systems provided for by sector-specific regulations;

3.  Points out that not all irregularities are fraudulent and that a clear distinction must be drawn between errors and fraud;

4.  Takes the view that the cooperation between the Commission and the Member States in the area of fraud detection is not effective enough;

5.  Does not share the opinion of the Commission that a 14 % year-on-year increase in resources available in the EU budget could justify the 36 % increase in the number of irregularities;

6.  Welcomes the Commission package of four delegated and four implementing regulations on the reporting of irregularity provisions in the area of shared management, which aims to improve the quality and consistency of the information on irregularities and fraud reported by the Member States; regrets that those regulations do not regulate timelines in which Members States would be obliged to report the irregularities; deplores the fact that, as regards reported non-fraudulent irregularities, in 2015, 537 of 538 irregularities reported by Ireland were related to the historical reporting programme from 2000-2006 and that 5 105 of 5 619 irregularities reported by Spain related to irregularities from the cohesion policy sector detected throughout the whole period 2007-2013, and which were all reported together in 2015, and that the Netherlands reported only one case related to the fishing sector in 2014 compared with 53 cases in 2015; stresses that the situation of Member States not transmitting data in a timely manner or providing inaccurate data has been recurring for many years; emphasises that it is impossible to make comparisons and an objective assessment of the scale of fraud in the Member States of the European Union;

7.  Notes that under Article 27(3) of Council Directive 2010/24/EU concerning mutual assistance for the recovery of claims relating to taxes, duties and other measures, ‘the Commission shall report every 5 years to the European Parliament and the Council on the operation of the arrangements established by this Directive’; regrets that the evaluation scheduled for no later than 1 January 2017 is still unpublished; calls on the Commission to publish the evaluation without delay;

8.  Encourages the Commission to continue its efforts to develop programmes such as REFIT in order to simplify EU legislation; stresses that the simplification of rules and procedures helps to reduce the number of irregularities, which are often linked to complex rules and requirements; notes that a reduced administrative burden is a cost saving for public administrations and EU citizens and also encourages beneficiaries to undertake new EU programmes; stresses that simplification of rules should be consistent with the principle of an EU budget focused on results;

9.  Recalls that the Member States manage around 80 % of the EU budget; feels, therefore, that the Commission must help them to create national anti-fraud strategies;

10.  Regrets that not all Member States have adopted national anti-fraud strategies;

11.  Calls again on the Commission to establish a uniform system for the collection of comparable data on irregularities and cases of fraud from the Member States in order to standardise the reporting process and ensure the quality and comparability of the data provided;

12.  Welcomes the adoption of Regulation (EU) 2015/1525 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 September 2015, which has improved the current framework for detecting and investigating customs fraud at EU and national level;

13.  Appreciates the efforts made by the Member States to detect, evaluate and report irregularities and to implement effective and proportionate anti-fraud measures; stresses that action to combat fraud helps to boost development; calls on the Commission also to use technical assistance to help strengthen the technical and administrative capacity of managing authorities to ensure effective control systems, including the introduction of simpler and more transparent applications that are able to reduce the risks of fraud and guarantee that any losses can be recovered; recommends improving transparency at all levels of the management of projects; encourages the Commission and the Member States to continue moving in this direction by gradually incorporating into their control systems and procedures the systematic use of IT tools to combat irregularities; urges the Commission to draw up and adopt special guidelines to help the national authorities detect irregularities;

Revenue – own resources

14.  Is concerned about the losses due to the VAT gap and intra-community VAT fraud, which is responsible for EUR 159,5 billion and EUR 50 billion respectively in lost revenue in 2014; notes that only two Member States, the United Kingdom and Belgium, collect and disseminate statistics on revenue losses due to cross-border VAT fraud;

15.  Points out that the Commission does not have access to the information exchanged between Member States with a view to preventing and combating Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud, commonly called carousel fraud; is of the opinion that the Commission should have access to Eurofisc, in order to better control, assess and improve the exchange of data among Member States; calls on all Member States to participate in all of Eurofisc’s fields of activity so as to facilitate and accelerate information exchange with judicial and law enforcement authorities such as Europol and OLAF, as recommended by the Court of Auditors; calls on the Member States and the Council to grant the Commission access to these data in order to foster cooperation, strengthen data reliability and fight cross-border crime;

16.  Notes that the VAT Information Exchange System (VIES) has proved to be a helpful tool in fighting fraud by enabling tax authorities to harmonise data on traders across countries; calls on the Member States to improve response times for providing information, replying to queries and reacting to errors signalled, as recommended by the European Court of Auditors;

17.  Notes the Commission action plan on ‘VAT – Towards a single EU VAT area’ published on 7 April 2016; deeply regrets that the publication of the ‘Measures to improve cooperation between tax administrations and with customs and law enforcement bodies and to strengthen tax administrations’ capacity’ provided for in the action plan for 2016 will be delayed by one year; emphasises that the problems related to cross-border VAT fraud need strong, coordinated and speedy measures; urges the Commission therefore to speed up its procedures and come up with solutions in order to avoid the loss of tax revenue in the EU and in the Member States;

18.  Stresses that the implementation of short-term measures to tackle losses on VAT should not delay the Commission’s proposal for a definitive VAT system as provided for in the action plan;

19.  Notes with some satisfaction that the spike in the amount of traditional own resources (TOR) affected by fraud in 2014 was a one-year issue and that the 2015 levels (EUR 427 million) have returned to the average of the 2011-2015 years; is displeased however that some of the Member States do not communicate any cases of irregularities linked to TOR;

20.  Urges the Member States to recover the amounts of TOR due more quickly, especially those Member States which need to recover the largest amounts; urges Greece, Romania, Latvia, Malta and the Netherlands to improve their collection of TOR, as their rate of TOR due remains significantly above the EU average of 1,71 % and is 8,95 %, 5,07 %, 5,04 %, 3,84 % and 3,81 % respectively;

21.  Notes that the number of cases of irregularities being voluntarily reported is rising, and calls on the Member States to adjust their customs inspections strategies accordingly, by taking the results of voluntary reporting into account;

22.  Takes particular note of the fact that 75 % of all cases reported as fraudulent concern goods such as tobacco, electrical machinery, footwear, textiles, iron and steel, and that China, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are most frequently reported as the countries of origin of such goods; stresses that China is the primary originating country (80 %) for counterfeit goods, followed by Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and India; asks the Commission to raise these problems during trade negotiations with these countries;

23.  Underlines the fact that the smuggling of heavily taxed goods causes significant losses of revenue to the budgets of the EU and the Member States, and that direct losses in customs revenue as a result of cigarette smuggling alone are estimated at more than EUR 10 billion a year;

24.  Notes with concern that tobacco smuggling to the EU has intensified in recent years and, according to estimates, represents an annual loss of EUR 10 billion in public revenue to the EU and Member States’ budgets and is at the same time a major source of organised crime, including terrorism; stresses that illicit tobacco trade causes severe damage to both legal trade and national economies; further notes that a considerable proportion of smuggled tobacco originates in Belarus; calls for the EU and the Member States to put pressure on Belarus to combat the illicit tobacco trade and organised crime, and to introduce sanctions if necessary; calls on the Member States to step up their cooperation in this area;

25.  Takes positive note of the successful outcomes of numerous joint customs operations (JCOs) involving the cooperation of OLAF and Member States with various third-country services, which have resulted in the seizure of, inter alia, 16 million sticks of cigarettes and 2 tonnes of cannabis; notes that operation Baltica, led by Polish customs authorities in cooperation with OLAF, Europol and five Member States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden), seized 13 million sticks of cigarettes coming from third countries such as Belarus and Russia;

26.  Takes note of the 241 cases of reported smuggled cigarettes, involving an estimated TOR loss of EUR 31 million; calls into question the vigilance of the customs services of certain Member States which have not reported any single case of cigarette smuggling in 2015;

27.  Notes that customs controls carried out at the time of clearance of goods and inspections by anti-fraud services were the most successful methods of detecting fraudulent cases on the revenue side of the EU budget in 2015;

28.  Expresses deep concern that a decrease in customs staff may negatively influence the number of controls, and therefore have a negative impact on the detection of fraudulent actions on the revenue side of the EU budget;

29.  Reiterates that effective customs controls are a key element in protecting EU financial interests, and that budgetary measures should not prevent the Member States’ authorities from carrying out their missions;

30.  Expresses concern with regard to customs inspections and the related collection of customs duties, which are an own resource for the EU budget; points out that inspections to verify that importers are complying with the rules on tariffs and imports are carried out by Member States’ own customs authorities, and calls on the Commission to ensure that inspections at the EU’s borders are appropriate and harmonised, thereby guaranteeing the EU’s security, safety and economic interests, and to commit to fighting trade in illegal and counterfeit goods in particular;

31.  Welcomes the Commission’s recommendation that Member States should strike the right balance between trade facilitation and the protection of the EU’s financial interests; points in this respect to the fast-lane procedures of customs authorities for companies that are considered low-risk, which in itself can be a good system for quick clearance of goods, but has proved vulnerable to corruptive practices by customs officers;

Expenditure

32.  Acknowledges the low rate of reported irregularities (both fraudulent and non-fraudulent) relating to the funds directly managed by the Commission, which is below 0,7 %; asks the Commission for more detailed information on recoveries from legal residents of non-EU countries of mismanaged EU funds under the Commission’s direct management;

33.  Notes that the number of irregularities related to expenditure reported as fraudulent dropped by 10 % in 2015;

34.  Notes that detected fraudulent and non-fraudulent irregularities on the expenditure side represent 1,98 % of payments from the EU budget in 2015;

35.  Notes that the number of reported fraudulent irregularities in 2015 for national resources on the expenditure side of the budget was 14 % lower than in 2014, and that the amount involved was 8 % higher; is concerned that in this sector the number of non-fraudulent irregularities in 2015 increased by 28 % and the amount affected by 44 %;

36.  Is deeply concerned that the number of reported fraudulent and non-fraudulent irregularities relating to the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) and to the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) has been growing annually for at least five consecutive years, with the number of reported cases rising from 1 970 in 2011 to 4 612 cases in 2015; notes, however, that the irregularities concerning the EAGF have remained stable over time (+6 % compared with 2014 and 10 % with 2011), and that those related to the EAFRD have been constantly increasing; observes that the financial amount involved decreased from EUR 211 million in 2011 to EUR 119 million in 2012, but steadily increased to EUR 394 million in 2015, with the level of reported irregularities relating to the EAFRD coming close to 2 % of the entire fund; urges the Member States with the highest number of non-fraudulent irregularities reported – Romania, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Portugal and Lithuania – to urgently and efficiently regulate the situation in order to reverse this trend;

37.  Regrets that more than two-thirds of the estimated level of errors in 2015 ERDF expenditure were caused by the absence of supporting documents to justify the expenditure and non-compliance with public procurement rules; points out that, for monitoring to be effective, complete transparency is needed, including with regard to subcontractors; calls on the Commission and the Member States to address these shortcomings immediately; calls on the Commission to monitor and evaluate the transposition of Directives 2014/24/EU and 2014/25/EU on public procurement into national law as soon as possible;

38.  Expresses concern at the difference in the number of irregularities reported by the various Member States; points out that a high number of reported irregularities may also be due to the national inspection system having a greater capacity to intercept and detect irregularities; urges the Commission to continue to make every effort to support Member States in stepping up the level and quality of inspections, including via the Anti-Fraud Coordination Service (AFCOS), and completion of the establishment of a national anti-fraud strategy (NAF) in all Member States;

39.  Welcomes the fact that by the end of 2015 six Member States had adopted a national anti-fraud strategy, and calls on the remaining Member States to complete their ongoing adoption processes quickly and develop national anti-fraud strategies of their own;

40.  Is deeply worried that the fraudulent and non-fraudulent irregularities linked to the Common Fisheries Policy in 2015 doubled since 2014, and are the highest ever reported with 202 cases (19 fraudulent and 183 non fraudulent), involving the sum of EUR 22,7 million (EUR 3,2 million for fraudulent cases);

41.  Underlines that the simplification of administrative rules will decrease the number of non-fraudulent irregularities, help identify fraudulent cases and make EU funds more accessible to beneficiaries;

42.  Deplores the fact that the cohesion policy reported a sharp increase in the number of non-fraudulent irregularities, which rose between 2014 and 2015 by 104 % for the programming periods before 2007-13 and by 108 % for the 2007-13 programming period; notes, however, that the financial amounts involved for non-fraudulent irregularities increased by no more than 9 % in 2015 compared with 2014; deplores furthermore the fact that the number of fraudulent irregularities in 2015 increased by 21 % and the amount involved by 74 %;

43.  Considers that benchmarking the data found in the annual report with comparable data about national spending schemes, including on irregularities and fraud, could help in drawing targeted conclusions on cohesion policy spending, including on capacity-building needs;

44.  Refers in this regard to Special Report No 10/2015 of the European Court of Auditors recommending, inter alia, that the Commission and the Member States invest in systematic analysis of public procurement errors, and calls on the Commission to submit to Parliament this detailed analysis; invites the Commission, in particular, to express its views as regards recurrent errors and to explain why such errors would not be considered as indications of potentially fraudulent activities; calls on the Commission to swiftly finalise the Guidelines on public procurement in line with the newly adopted Directive on public procurement;

45.  Points out that complete transparency in accounting for expenditure is fundamental, especially as regards infrastructure works financed directly via EU funds or financial instruments; calls on the Commission to provide for EU citizens to have full access to information on co-financed projects;

46.  Asks for detailed explanations from the Commission regarding the reasons behind the high level of fraudulent cases in research and technological development (R&TD), innovation and entrepreneurship which has grown from 6 to 91 reported cases annually in the 2007-13 programming period, representing a sum of EUR 263 million, which constitutes over 20 % of all reported fraud cases in the cohesion policy;

47.  Welcomes the overall drop in reported irregularities in the Pre-Accession Assistance (PAA); notes, however, that the number of irregularities in the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA I) is steadily growing, with Turkey being the contributor of 46 % of cases representing 83 % of the sums of reported irregularities; invites the Commission to consider applying the ‘more for more’ principle in a negative sense (‘less for less’), given the current political situation in Turkey, which poses a direct threat to the absorption capacities of the country;

Problems identified and measures required

Better reporting

48.  Regrets that, despite Parliament’s numerous calls for the establishment of uniform reporting principles in all Member States, the situation remains highly unsatisfactory and there are still significant differences in the number of fraudulent and non-fraudulent irregularities reported by each Member State; considers that this problem creates a distorted picture of the real situation regarding the level of infringements and the protection of the EU’s financial interests; reiterates its call on the Commission to make serious efforts to unify the differing approaches by Member States to preventing, detecting and reporting irregularities, and non-homogeneous interpretations when applying the EU legal framework; calls for the creation of a uniform reporting system;

49.  Repeats its call on the Commission to develop a system whereby competent authorities may exchange information, enabling cross-checking of accounting records for transactions between two or more Member States in order to prevent cross-border fraud in respect of the Structural and Investment Funds, hence ensuring a cross-cutting and complete approach to the protection of Member States’ financial interests;

50.  Draws attention to the conclusions of the cooperation project funded by the Hercule III programme in the anti-fraud sector, in which the Commission is urged to present a specific legislative proposal on mutual administrative assistance with respect to the Structural and Investment Funds, such a legal cooperation instrument being necessary in order to avert the risks of criminal embezzlement, taking as a starting point the ongoing mid-term evaluation of the application of Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 883/2013 concerning investigations conducted by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF);

51.  Points out that in emergency situations, such as the use of funds for refugees, there are often exemptions from normal procurement procedures, involving direct access to funds; calls on the Commission to supervise more effectively the use of such exemptions and the widespread practice of splitting procurement contracts so as not to exceed the thresholds, thereby avoiding regular procurement procedures;

52.  Supports the Commission in its approach to recommend strengthening the work of the Member States which continue to report a very low number of fraudulent irregularities in relation to detecting and/or reporting fraud;

53.  Takes positive note of the increase in the amount of data published by the Commission on fraudulent and non-fraudulent irregularities and on the quality of statistical evaluation of irregularities reported;

54.  Calls on the Member States to ratify fully the EU Directive on money-laundering, with the introduction of a public register of beneficial ownership of companies and also trusts;

55.  Points out that many Member States do not have specific laws against organised crime, although its involvement in cross-border activities and sectors affecting the EU’s financial interests, such as smuggling or counterfeiting of currency, is constantly growing; considers it essential that Member States adopt the measures set out in its resolutions on combating organised crime(9);

56.  Stresses that prevention should involve constant training and support for the staff responsible for the management and control of funds within the competent authorities, as well as exchanges of information and best practices between Member States; points to the decisive role of local and regional authorities and stakeholders in combating fraud; calls on the Commission and the Member States to comply with the provisions setting out the ex-ante conditionalities in cohesion policy, in particular in the field of public procurement; calls on the Member States to step up their efforts in the areas highlighted by the Commission’s annual report, in particular as regards public procurement, financial crime, conflict of interest, corruption, whistle-blowing and the definition of fraud;

57.  Recommends that steps be taken to improve the uptake of simplification measures for 2014-2020 and with a view to the post-2020 regulatory framework for the European Structural and Investment Funds as a tool to reduce the risk of irregularities resulting from errors; underlines the importance of applying the single audit principle; believes that the simplification of rules and procedures will help reduce non-fraudulent irregularities; encourages the Member States and their local and regional authorities to share best practices in this regard, while always taking into account the need for a proper balance between vigilance tools and simplified procedures;

Better controls

58.  Welcomes the fact that the ex-ante and ex-post ‘Community controls’ are detecting more and more cases of irregularities; considers, however, that prevention is easier than recovery of losses and that provision should always be made for an ex-ante independent assessment of projects to be funded; urges the Member States therefore to better carry out the ex-ante controls with the assistance of the Commission and to use all information available to prevent errors and irregular payments related to EU funds; recalls in this respect that budget constraints cannot be invoked as reasons for reducing the staff dedicated to these ex-ante controls, as preventing irregularities pays for itself;

59.  Encourages the Commission to further enhance its supervisory role through audit, control and inspection activities, remedial action plans and early-warning letters with a view to reducing irregularities;

60.  Urges the Commission to maintain its strict policy on interruption and suspension of payments as a preventive measure against irregularities affecting the EU budget, in accordance with the relevant legal basis;

61.  Supports the Hercule III programme, which is a good example of the ‘best use of every euro’ approach; stresses the importance of this programme and its contribution to strengthening the capacities of customs authorities to monitor cross-border crime and to prevent counterfeit and smuggled goods from reaching the Member States; asks the Commission to give an interim evaluation of the results achieved under Hercule III in terms of its objectives and to monitor the use and effectiveness of grants granted;

62.  Calls on the Commission to explore the possibility of mandatory use of the Arachne risk scoring tool by all Member States in order to increase anti-fraud measures;

63.  Looks forward to the Commission’s mid-term assessment in 2018 with a view to establishing whether the new regulatory architecture for cohesion policy further prevents and reduces the risk of irregularities, including fraud, and also looks forward to receiving detailed information on the impact of the new rules on management and control systems, both as regards the risk of irregularities and fraud and as regards the general implementation of the policy;

64.  Is of the opinion that the financial control system of the Cohesion Funds needs to be evaluated before the adoption of the new multiannual financial framework (MFF) in order to correct the system’s shortcomings;

65.  Stresses that in its mid-term assessment of cohesion policy, due to take place in 2018, the Commission should take account of the need to prevent and reduce the risk of irregularities, including fraudulent ones; regrets that complex procedures are making financing through EU funds less attractive; asks the Commission to analyse the benefits of introducing incentives to increase the efficiency of spending; calls on the Commission to create a mechanism for the exchange of information between the national competent authorities, in order to allow a cross-comparison of the accounting records of transactions among Member States with a view to helping to detect any transnational fraud in the context of the MFF 2014-2020;

66.  Expresses its concern about the level of cooperation between all the control structures in Member States; calls on the Commission and the Member States to support initiatives to strengthen coordination capacity between control structures, especially those that act in the first line of control in direct contact with the beneficiaries; points out that fraud and corruption are becoming increasingly transnational in nature; emphasises, in this context, the advisability of setting up an independent European Public Prosecutor’s Office to protect the EU’s financial interests, while taking steps to ensure that the relationship between the office and the existing EU bodies is clarified and that a clear demarcation between their respective powers is established to rule out any unnecessary overlaps;

Protection of EU currency

67.  Welcomes the fact that Directive 2014/62/EU came into force in 2014, ordering that acts intentionally committed, for example counterfeiting or altering money, putting such money into circulation, and also abetting, aiding and attempting to do so, be considered a crime; deplores the fact that Belgium, France and Ireland have yet to transpose the Directive within the prescribed period, i.e. by 23 May 2016;

68.  Notes that, according to the European Central Bank, since the introduction of the euro in 2002, counterfeit currency had caused by 2016 financial losses amounting to at least EUR 500 million in the EU economy;

Whistleblowers

69.  Emphasises the role of whistleblowers in fraud prevention, detection and reporting and the need to protect them; welcomes the fact that in 2015 the Commission launched the ‘Experience Sharing Programme’ in order to coordinate and exchange best practices with a view to preventing corruption in cooperation with Member States;

70.  Stresses that corruption and fraud have a fundamental negative impact on EU financial interests and, even though the EU has a multi-layer control mechanism in place, the role of an individual is absolutely irreplaceable at the lowest level of the control system; highlights that, for that reason, whistleblowers need to have a clear position in the EU and Member States’ legislative frameworks that would clearly define their rights and obligations; calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure a minimum level of protection for European whistleblowers;

71.  Welcomes the fact that Parliament, the Commission, the Council, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the European External Action Service, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the European Ombudsman, the European Data Protection Supervisor and the majority of the EU agencies have implemented internal rules that protect whistleblowers, in accordance with Articles 22a, 22b and 22c of the Staff Regulations, and expects further improvements in terms of rules for the protection of whistleblowers;

72.  Recalls its resolution of 14 February 2017 on the role of whistleblowers in the protection of EU’s financial interests(10), and calls for timely implementation by the Member States and the Commission of the recommendations made therein and for them to inform Parliament on the follow-up of this resolution; reiterates its call on the Commission to submit as a matter of urgency a legislative proposal on the protection of whistleblowers in order to effectively prevent and combat fraud affecting the financial interests of the European Union;

Corruption

73.  Notes that in 2015 the fight against corruption remained a priority in the framework of the European Semester and the related process of economic governance; welcomes the measures taken in this fight such as organising meetings with the national contact points of the Member States, launching the Experience Sharing Programme for Member States, and the participation of OLAF on behalf of the Commission in European and international anti-corruption fora;

74.  Deplores the fact that the Commission no longer feels the need to publish the EU anti-corruption report, which impaired the assessment of the scale of corruption in 2015; regrets, in particular, that this decision was taken without any discussions with Parliament; is of the opinion that, irrespective of the Commission’s intentions as regards fighting corruption, this last-minute cancellation sends out the wrong message not only to the Member States but also to citizens; notes that, since becoming a party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on 12 November 2008, the European Union has not participated in the review mechanism provided for under the Convention, nor has it taken the first step of completing a self-assessment of how it is implementing its obligations under the Convention; calls on the European Union to fulfil its obligations under the UNCAC by completing a self-assessment of how it is implementing its obligations under the Convention and participating in the peer-review mechanism; urges the Commission to reconsider its views on the EU Anti-Corruption Report; calls on the Commission to carry out further analysis at the level of both the EU institutions and the Member States of the environment in which policies are implemented, in order to identify inherent critical factors, vulnerable areas and risk factors conducive to corruption;

75.  Calls for the EU to advance its application for membership of the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) as soon as possible and for Parliament to be kept up to date with the progress of this application;

76.  Reiterates its opinion that corruption is an enormous challenge for the EU and the Member States, and that, without effective measures against it, corruption undermines the EU’s economic performance, the rule of law and the credibility of democratic institutions within the Union;

77.  Urges the Commission to publish the second anti-corruption report and to present these reports regularly in order to inform the public about the achievements in the fight against corruption, inter alia in the context of the anti-corruption Experience Sharing Programme;

78.  Is alarmed by the results of research which show that the risk of fraud and corruption is higher when Member States are spending European resources, particularly when the share of European funding is significantly over 50 % of the total costs; is therefore of the opinion that in these cases the Member States do not comply completely with Article 325(2) of the TFEU, which requires Member States to take the same measures to counter fraud affecting the financial interests of the Union as they take to counter fraud affecting their own financial interests; therefore calls on the Member States to fully apply the principle of Article 325(2) and the Commission to make sure that Members indeed do so;

79.  Reiterates its call on the Commission to develop a system of strict indicators and easily applicable, uniform criteria based on the requirements set out in the Stockholm Programme, to measure the level of corruption in the Member States and to evaluate their anti-corruption policies; invites the Commission to develop a corruption index in order to rank the Member States; is of the opinion that a corruption index could provide a sound basis on which the Commission could establish its country-specific control mechanism when controlling the spending of EU resources;

Investigative journalism

80.  Is of the opinion that investigative journalism plays a key role in fostering the necessary level of transparency in the EU and the Member States; is of the opinion that investigative journalism should be encouraged and supported by legal means both in the Member States and in the EU, and supports the preparatory action which establishes a grant scheme for trans-border investigative journalism, which is to be distributed by an intermediary organisation, namely the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom in Leipzig;

PIF Directive and EPPO Regulation

81.  Welcomes the successfully concluded negotiations on the proposal for a directive on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (PIF Directive) with VAT fraud included in its scope; notes that the directive defines the types of fraudulent behaviour to be criminalised and provides a definition of corruption;

82.  Recalls its resolution of 5 October 2016 on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and Eurojust(11) reaffirming Parliament’s longstanding support for the establishment of an efficient and independent EPPO in order to reduce the current fragmentation of national law enforcement efforts to protect the EU budget; believes that an efficient EPPO will strengthen the fight against fraud in the EU provided that it is given the necessary legal provisions and is able to work efficiently with other existing EU bodies and Member State authorities; notes that the scope of the PIF Directive directly determines the scope of the EPPO’s mandate; notes with concern the diverging opinions in the Council on the EPPO as provided for in Article 86 of the TFEU; sees its provisions not being implemented through enhanced cooperation; is of the opinion that the EPPO can only be effective if its scope covers all Member States; calls on the Member States to revise their position and to do their utmost to reach a consensus in the Council;

Tobacco

83.  Points out the Commission’s decision not to renew the PMI agreement, which expired on 9 July 2016; recalls that it asked the Commission on 9 March 2016 not to renew, extend or renegotiate the PMI agreement beyond its expiry date; believes that the three other agreements (BAT, JTI and ITL) should not be renewed;

84.  Urges the Commission to put in place, at EU level, all necessary measures to track and trace PMI tobacco products, and to bring legal action against any illegal seizures of this manufacturer’s products until all provisions of the Tobacco Products Directive are fully enforceable, so that there is no regulatory gap between the expiry of the PMI agreement and the entry into force of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC);

85.  Notes that following its call in its resolution of 9 March 2016 on the tobacco agreement (PMI agreement)(12), the Commission has to come forward with an action plan for tackling illicit tobacco trade, including the high proportion of non-branded cigarettes (‘cheap whites’); urges the Commission to submit to Parliament a proposal for such an action plan without further delay;

86.  Welcomes the Commission’s support for the timely ratification of the WTO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products as the first multilateral legal instrument to tackle the problem of cigarette smuggling comprehensively and on a worldwide basis, and calls for its timely ratification and implementation;

87.  Recalls that to date 25 parties have ratified the FCTC, including only seven EU Member States and the EU as a whole; urges the EU Member States to ratify the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products;

Investigations and the role of OLAF

88.  Regrets that, despite the assurances of OLAF that it is doing its utmost to shorten the length of its investigations, the duration of its investigative phase has grown continuously since 2012 from 22,5 months to 25,1 months in the case of closed cases and from 17,3 months to 18,7 months in all cases;

89.  Notes OLAF’s role within different joint customs operations (JCOs) in preventing losses for the EU budget, and asks OLAF to include in its future annual reports more information and concrete figures concerning its contribution to protecting the revenue side of the EU budget;

90.  Expresses concern at the increase mentioned in OLAF’s most recent annual report in the number of cases of cross-border fraud; calls on the Commission to assess the use of joint operations in line with methods and procedures already successfully employed on the customs side, and also on the expenditure side, on the basis of Article 1(2) of Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 883/2013;

91.  Supports OLAF’s participation in national and international meetings on combating fraud, such as the European contact-point network against corruption, which in November 2015 adopted the Paris Declaration on stepping up the fight against corruption;

92.  Points out that there have been many positive steps forward in the fight against fraud; welcomes, in this context, the recent establishment within OLAF of a new investigation unit for the European Structural and Investment Funds;

93.  Calls on OLAF to compare in its annual activity reports OLAF’s recommendations for financial recoveries with the amounts which were actually recovered;

94.  Recalls that, in the light of the principle of mutual sincere cooperation between the institutions, of the principle of good administration and of the requirement of legal certainty, OLAF and its Supervisory Committee are to organise their collaboration on the basis of their working protocols, fully respecting the applicable legal provisions;

95.  Welcomes OLAF’s analysis of Member States’ follow-up to OLAF’s judicial recommendations issued between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2015 as an overview of the main reasons concerning non-follow-up of its recommendations; notes, however, that the data collected in the document concerns only judicial recommendations without taking into consideration administrative, disciplinary and financial recommendations and so is not representative of the overall follow-up of OLAF’s recommendations; calls for the Commission to give a comprehensive reaction to OLAF’s recently published analysis on Member States’ follow-up to OLAF’s judicial recommendations, and asks OLAF to add a chapter to its annual report on the follow-up of these recommendations; calls on OLAF, in cooperation with the Commission, to provide a detailed analysis, including figures on the recovery of EU funds;

96.  Regrets the fact that almost one third (94 of 317) of OLAF’s judicial recommendations issued between 2008 and 2015 to the competent authorities were dismissed on the basis of insufficient evidence; calls on the Commission to assess how administrative investigations could be better used in judicial cases; encourages the competent authorities of the Member States to provide detailed information regarding reasons for dismissals, in order for OLAF to better adjust its recommendations to national laws;

97.  Is of the opinion that the proportion of OLAF recommendations submitted to the national authorities which led to indictments (around 50 %) is not sufficient; calls on the Member States’ authorities to improve their level of cooperation with OLAF; calls on the Member States, the Commission and OLAF to lay down conditions which ensure the admissibility of the evidence provided by OLAF; encourages the Member State authorities and OLAF to carry out joint investigations in order to reach the optimal result;

98.  Urges the Commission, in view of the ending mandate of OLAF’s Director-General, to start immediately the procedure for a call for proposals for a new Director-General and to start the consultation process with Parliament;

99.  Calls on the Commission to revise Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 883/2013 and to submit a proposal on strengthening the investigative powers of OLAF; recommends that greater resources should be assigned to OLAF to enable it to investigate far more reported suspected cases;

100.  Expresses its concern about the discrepancy between the information received by OLAF from public sources and that from private sources in the Member States; calls on the Commission to support initiatives aimed at increasing the collection of public information, and calls on the Member States to improve the quality of data provided;

101.  Notes that, thus far, OLAF’s judicial recommendations have seen only limited implementation in the Member States; takes the view that such a situation is intolerable, and calls on the Commission to ensure full implementation of OLAF’s recommendations in the Member States;

102.  Deplores the fact that the judicial authorities of some Member States consider OLAF’s recommendations related to the misspending of EU money to be a low priority; recalls that, in accordance with Article 325(2) of the TFEU, ‘Member States shall take the same measures to counter fraud affecting the financial interests of the Union as they take to counter fraud affecting their own financial interests’;

103.  Considers tackling the issue of poor communication between the Member States and OLAF to be a priority; invites the Commission and the Member States to promote initiatives to improve communication not only between public structures, but also between civil society in the Member States and OLAF; stresses that this is important in terms of combating corruption in the Member States;

o
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104.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Auditors, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the OLAF Supervisory Committee.

(1) OJ L 84, 20.3.2014, p. 6.
(2) OJ L 248, 18.9.2013, p. 1.
(3) OJ L 298, 26.10.2012, p. 1.
(4) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0403.
(5) OJ L 312, 23.12.1995, p. 1.
(6) Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 8 September 2015, Taricco and Others, C-105/14, ECLI:EU:C:2015:555.
(7) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0022.
(8) OJ L 94, 28.3.2014, p. 65.
(9) European Parliament resolution of 25 October 2016 on the fight against corruption and follow-up of the CRIM resolution (Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0403); European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2013 on organised crime, corruption and money laundering: recommendations on action and initiatives to be taken OJ C 208, 10.6.2016, p. 89).
(10) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0022.
(11) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0376.
(12) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0082.

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