Presidente. − L'ordine del giorno reca la relazione di Bill Newton Dunn, a nome della commissione per il mercato interno e la protezione dei consumatori, sulla proposta di regolamento del Parlamento europeo e del Consiglio recante modifica del regolamento (CE) n. 515/97 del Consiglio, relativo alla mutua assistenza tra le autorità amministrative degli Stati membri e alla collaborazione tra queste e la Commissione per assicurare la corretta applicazione delle normative doganale e agricola (COM(2006)0866 – C6-0033/2007 – 2006/0290(COD) (A6-0488/2007).
Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, this third report is very much linked to the two previous ones. Council Regulation (EC) No 515/97 on mutual assistance between the administrative authorities of the Member States and cooperation between the latter and the Commission to ensure the correct application of the law on customs or agricultural matters is a very important piece of legislation dating back to 1997, when we had 15 Member States.
It was essential to propose an amendment to Regulation (EC) No 515/97 in the light of developments in the last decade, technological progress, successful experience with joint customs operations coordinated in Brussels, and the enlargement of the Union to 27 Members.
I would like to pay tribute to the rapporteur, Mr Newton-Dunn, for the way he has guided this proposal through Parliament. I would also like to thank Mr Audy, who drafted the opinion. The two committees, IMCO and COCOBU, worked closely together using the enhanced cooperation mechanism. Their excellent work has enabled a compromise to be brokered between the various political actors. Thanks to the constructive approach of Parliament, a first-reading adoption of this legislation can now be achieved.
Customs authorities apply controls on goods entering and exiting the Community based upon a common risk management framework, including the use of random checks. In this context, their task is generally not limited to the enforcement of customs legislation: they also apply Community law in the fields of VAT, excise and agricultural legislation.
I also note that the issue of the fight against VAT fraud and the need for closer cooperation between the Member States and the Commission is strongly emphasised in the Musotto report which we have just discussed.
For this reason, it is crucial that customs authorities and the Commission are allowed to exchange VAT information. In the case of certain types of data, the new Article 2a makes such an exchange of information possible.
The Commission regards this as the first step in the direction of closer cooperation in the field of the protection of the Community’s financial interests against VAT fraud.
Bill Newton Dunn, rapporteur. − Mr President, I thank the Commissioner. I believe this should be a very uncontroversial proposal by the Commission. As the Commissioner said: enlargement, more Member States, new technology, new equipment, computers. We need updated Commission legislation to allow good cooperation across internal borders in the Union against the bad guys – the organised criminals and so on.
I talked to the director of a major Anglo-Dutch company last week and he says that he finds organised crime is increasing and – I use the word which he used – ‘exponentially’, increasing incredibly fast, and yet the Member State governments do nothing about it, because the public does not know the full picture and does not push the governments, so they say, ‘Well, don’t worry, everything is okay’. We have a serious problem. So we need this proposal from the Commission, and everybody should agree and it should go through.
There should be nothing more for me to say, but actually there is a whole story to tell you, Mr President, which I would now like to do. To my amazement, my own Member State, the UK, threw in a veto in the Council of Ministers, saying that they would not agree to this. They did not tell me, though I am British, and from the same Member State. Not a single Labour MEP from the Labour Government in London tabled an amendment to anything, but they chose my good Conservative friend, Christopher Heaton-Harris, a very honourable man, who is going to speak, to pick up the Labour Government’s objection and he tabled an amendment, which is slightly weird, but I wish Chris good luck; he is entitled to do that. But what was the Labour Party doing in all this? So, I thought, this is very strange, and there are a lot of other British objections and vetoes and opt-outs going on in lots of different policy areas, so I thought I would investigate what the overall UK policy was on all these directives that they are opting out of, what was going on?
I went to OLAF, which deals with fraud in the EU, as we know. OLAF tells me that the UK refuses to cooperate with it, even though the UK loses billions on VAT carousel fraud. London says, ‘If we give OLAF a finger, they will take our whole arm, so we are afraid, and we will not cooperate’. This is very weird, so I made further enquiries in London. How does this work? And I am told this is what happens: the Commission makes a proposal, then a junior official in the appropriate government department in London has to write a briefing paper to recommend what the Government should do about it. He is very careful; he is a bit nervous; he does not know what to do, so he says, ‘We must not do anything about this. I recommend great caution. I do not think we should approve. Perhaps we should even opt out’. And his careful paper – because he wants to be promoted and not sacked – goes up the tree in his department, and officials who are busy doing other things say ‘okay’ and tick it. Other government departments asked for their opinion do not know either, so they say, ‘It seems okay to us’. It goes finally to a cabinet committee chaired by our Foreign Secretary – and he has a million other things to think about – and so it gets rubber-stamped. So, suddenly, the Government’s position in London is negative, cautious, in favour of an opt-out: ‘We do not understand. We do not really know what is going on’. Very strange indeed!
So what happens next? Well, back to the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection in the Parliament. The blockage in the Council has meant that I have attended several informal tripartite conciliations with the Council, first of all led by the Portuguese, now led by the Slovenes, in both cases excellently. And, although no UK official has ever briefed me about anything, and I was therefore the only British person present at the conciliation, even though the British Government apparently has a veto situation on this, it went through.
Finally, the Commission and the Council have found a form of words which has enabled the British objection to be got round, or overcome, or whatever words you like to use. So the amendments before the Parliament, for voting tomorrow, were all approved by the IMCO Committee and I hope very much that Parliament will vote for them tomorrow. But what is going on in London, Mr President, I just do not understand.
Véronique Mathieu, rapporteur pour avis de la commission du contrôle budgétaire. − Monsieur le Président, Monsieur le Commissaire, chers collègues, mon collègue Jean-Pierre Audy, qui est rapporteur pour avis au nom du contrôle budgétaire, ayant eu un empêchement de dernière minute, je m'exprimerai ici en son nom.
La bonne application des réglementations douanières et agricoles joue un rôle déterminant dans le bon fonctionnement du marché intérieur. C'est un dossier essentiel au regard de la protection des intérêts financiers de la Communauté, mais également des intérêts financiers des agents économiques européens et des citoyens.
Le fichier d'identification des dossiers d'enquêtes douanières permet une coordination plus efficace entre les différents services des États membres et de la Commission. Une partie des amendements est destinée à transposer les propositions de la Cour afin d'augmenter l'utilité de ce fichier.
Le rapporteur pour avis partage les inquiétudes de la Cour au sujet de l'approche intégrée dans la gestion des différentes bases de données concernant la lutte antifraude, mais considère que cette discussion va au-delà du présent règlement et devrait être menée dans un contexte différent.
Jean-Pierre Audy, le rapporteur pour avis, soutient les propositions de la Commission qui ont pour objectif de promouvoir la valeur ajoutée de la coopération au niveau européen, notamment le répertoire européen des données et la plate-forme de services. À défaut d'un cadre juridique plus homogène, une approche de plus en plus cohérente à moyen terme pourra être assurée grâce à l'échange des meilleures pratiques.
Quant au financement, Jean-Pierre Audy, le rapporteur pour avis, tient à souligner que les dépenses doivent être clairement identifiées afin d'éviter des chevauchements entre cette proposition et d'autres instruments, par exemple le programme Hercule II.
Finalement, le rapporteur pour avis souhaite sauvegarder la procédure législative pour la décision sur d'autres systèmes de communication et d'échange d'informations, y compris l'avis obligatoire de la Cour des comptes, au lieu d'appliquer la procédure de comitologie.
Christopher Heaton-Harris, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I would like to start by thanking Mr Newton Dunn, another honourable Member of this institution, for eloquently painting the picture of how EU matters are dealt with – or how he believes they are dealt with – in London.
Perhaps I can explain what was going on in London and why they came to a Conservative Member of the European Parliament rather than go to a Labour MEP, or indeed to himself. Actually, I think they should have gone to him, and I cannot believe they did not. He might not believe me, but I had more contact with the current Presidency-in-Office than I did with anybody from London or the British civil service.
But perhaps it was just the fact that this young civil servant he described had forgotten to read the newspapers and believed that the general election had been called in October, that my party had won it and that the Prime Minister had not dithered, and that, therefore, he was dealing with a member of the Government party.
Alas, that is not the case. But I do understand what he says about London being concerned about giving OLAF a finger and it taking an arm. This actually goes back to the structure of OLAF itself, to the wise men’s paper back in 1999, and the fact that OLAF is simply not independent of the Commission – something that will be addressed in the future.
There were other problems with this particular dossier: the fact that VAT was being dragged between pillars, possibly – and we needed to get legal advice on that – and the fact that much of this information is already exchanged electronically. The British Government did believe – and I can see from reading between the lines how it came to that conclusion – that it would need a permanent coordination unit and would need to second people to this, therefore having lots of people in a place rather than just exchanging information electronically.
However, there is no problem with the amendments. There is no problem with the debate. This should go through very quickly, and I hope it does.
Presidente. − Grazie, onorevole Heaton-Harris. Adesso che a Londra è tutto chiaro, anche l'Europa è più tranquilla.
Catherine Neris, au nom du groupe PSE. – Monsieur le Président, chers collègues, je tiens à féliciter le rapporteur pour son excellent travail et pour sa collaboration sur ce dossier particulièrement sensible.
À l'heure où les échanges commerciaux avec les pays tiers, comme au sein de l'Union, ne cessent d'augmenter, l'ouverture croissante des marchés et l'accroissement du négoce représentent un des facteurs de développement de l'Europe pour les années à venir. La suppression progressive des barrières qui circonscrivaient l'Espace économique européen ouvre toutefois la porte à un ensemble d'opérations frauduleuses qui menacent la viabilité du marché intérieur et dont les premières victimes sont à dénombrer parmi les producteurs communautaires et, par extension, parmi les consommateurs européens. Ce problème est particulièrement saillant dans le secteur agricole, dont l'indispensable système d'aide financière et de solidarité vis-à-vis de ses paysans attire la convoitise de la petite comme de la grande criminalité internationale.
Dans ce contexte, face aux carences des outils de contrôle actuels, l'Europe s'apprête à se doter d'une nouvelle réglementation, qui devrait notamment permettre un meilleur partage des données entre États membres en ce qui concerne les mouvements des marchandises et les enquêtes en cours dans les différents pays de l'Union. Je me réjouis du compromis trouvé avec le Conseil, qui permet aujourd'hui de disposer d'un texte équilibré, dont les termes seront soumis demain au vote des membres du Parlement européen. Tout en protégeant les éléments de la vie privée, il devrait conduire à une meilleure efficacité des procédures de surveillance, à une meilleure coordination des actions menées entre chacun des États membres.
Dans le domaine des contrôles douaniers comme ailleurs, je suis convaincue que l'Europe ne pourra se faire qu'à travers une plus grande convergence de nos efforts et par une mise en commun de nos ressources respectives, afin d'apporter à nos concitoyens le niveau de protection auquel ils aspirent. En ce sens, l'amélioration des mesures de lutte contre les fraudes ne pourra se faire sans le maintien en parallèle d'un niveau conséquent de régulation, indispensable pour conserver en amont une gestion saine et efficace des échanges commerciaux dans l'Union, comme vis-à-vis des pays tiers.
Mairead McGuinness (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I rather enjoyed the remarks by my eminent colleagues from the UK and their storytelling about how things are done in the UK. I think we should write that down and translate that into many languages, because I think it happens in many Member States that junior officials have a dossier and prepare various reports on it. I think we should not point the finger at the junior official but rather at the department that allows that to happen.
I would just like to put to the House that there are concerns about the UK and Ireland – and maybe the Commission can update me, if there is an update about this particular issue – because, while there is support for the principle of mutual assistance between the customs authorities, I think that both Member States, Ireland and the UK, have reservations on the exchange of information between these authorities on the use of VAT numbers in Article 2a(f) and contend that the exchange of information using VAT numbers is de facto, the exchange of fiscal information falling outside the scope of the proposed legal base. So perhaps there could be a comment on that.
Siim Kallas, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I also enjoy seeing how things are debated in the UK. However, I can assure you, with regard to what had just been said, that this does not happen only in the UK.
I have met several chiefs of finance, and several ministers, and promoted the idea of mutual administrative assistance, and can state that this reluctance is not just limited to the United Kingdom. It has been viewed as a suspicious matter, but I can assure you that there are no grounds for this kind of suspicion. As an investigative body within the Commission, OLAF can only provide a platform for cooperation, and it is absolutely clear that value added tax fraud can only be fought in cooperation between Member States and the European Commission, because, basically, major fraud can only happen cross-border.
So there is a real need for better cooperation, and to exchange information. I cannot comment on the last question, as to the substance of the information. We are only talking about smoothing the fight against value added tax fraud, which is a major type of fraud. That would indeed be the case, and I am very happy to hear the opinion being clearly expressed that Parliament would support this legislative proposal in the form proposed.
Bill Newton Dunn, rapporteur. − Mr President, I should like to thank everybody who spoke in the debate. To the very perceptive comment from Ms McGuinness, representing Dublin, I would say: when she said this is widespread and should be written down, she probably is aware that there was a very famous TV programme about 15, or even 20, years ago in the UK called Yes, Minister, in which the minister, who was a bumbling idiot, imagined he was in full control and was eventually promoted to Prime Minister. But the words ‘Yes, Minister’ were actually the words of his civil servants, who were telling him what to say and what to do – ‘Yes, Minister. No, Minister. Of course, you are all-powerful, Minister.’ But it was the civil servants who were in control.
This was happening 20 years ago and, clearly, it is still happening today. And it is happening all over Europe, which is very interesting. So perhaps we need an updated European programme – Ja, Herr Minister or Sí, Señor Ministro. But perhaps scriptwriters could actually entertain us with a new programme on the same theme, because the old truths remain as true as ever.
Presidente. − La discussione è chiusa.
La votazione si svolgerà martedì 19 febbraio 2008.
Dichiarazioni scritte (articolo 142)
Bogdan Golik (PSE), na piśmie. – Dwa ostatnie rozszerzenia zdecydowanie wydłużyły zarówno lądowe, jak i morskie granice Unii Europejskiej. Sytuacja ta wymaga zacieśnienia współpracy między państwami członkowskimi oraz pomiędzy państwami członkowskimi a Komisją, a także koordynacji i spójności działań służących walce z międzynarodową przestępczością gospodarczą i finansową. Zgadzam się ze sprawozdawcą, iż w działaniach tych nie należy jednak zapominać o roli państw trzecich i w pełni popieram przekazanie Komisji odpowiednich uprawnień do dostarczenia pomocy technicznej oraz szkoleń dla oficerów łącznikowych z krajów trzecich, z organizacji i agencji europejskich i międzynarodowych. Z zadowoleniem przyjmuję propozycje usprawnienia procedur przekazywania państwom trzecim danych uzyskanych od innego państwa członkowskiego. Jestem przekonany, że proponowane zmiany pozytywnie wpłyną na ograniczenie nadużyć finansowych.
Chciałbym zwrócić uwagę na zapis artykułu 18a mówiący o stworzeniu i zarządzaniu przez Komisję zbiorem danych, które mają pomóc w wykrywaniu przesyłek, jakie mogą stanowić przedmiot działań niezgodnych z przepisami prawa celnego i rolnego. Uważam, że w punkcie tym powinien pojawić się konkretny zapis umożliwiający właściwym władzom każdego państwa członkowskiego dostęp do omawianego zbioru danych, jeśli zwrócą się do Komisji z takim wnioskiem. W obecnej formie artykuł mówi o "pomocy" właściwym władzom.