The European Parliament’s budgetary-control committee is preparing a confrontation in the autumn with Giovanni Kessler, the executive director of the European Union’s anti-fraud office (OLAF), over his alleged obstruction of the work of a five-member committee that is supposed to supervise the agency.
“We have faced serious obstacles carrying out our work,” Johan Denolf, the chair of the supervisory committee, told MEPs on Tuesday (22 July). He said that with the information available to the committee, its members were not in a position to judge whether OLAF was truly independent from the European Commission, as it is supposed to be. The issue gained prominence during OLAF’s investigation of John Dalli, who was forced to resign as a European commissioner over corruption allegations. Denolf said there were “serious concerns about the independence of OLAF from the cabinet of the Commission president and the secretariat-general of the Commission”.
Herbert Bösch, a former MEP who is now on the supervisory committee, said: “It is high time for the European commissioner in charge to do something and to stop simply brushing the problems aside with a smile.” Ingeborg Grässle, Kessler’s most high-profile critic, who is now chair of the budgetary-control committee, pledged to deal with the matter in the autumn and to invite Algirdas Šemeta, the European commissioner for taxation, customs, statistics, audit and anti-fraud, to present his views.
Denolf said that relations with Kessler, who was present at the hearing, had been difficult last year and had become more difficult still this year. There was, he said, a “gentlemen’s agreement” that access to data would “never” be refused by OLAF. “But in practice working arrangements are followed to the letter and it’s almost impossible to obtain” access to documents, he said. The new working arrangements took effect at the beginning of the year. Kessler, he added, had instructed OLAF officials not to talk directly to the supervisory committee, and that the committee’s secretariat was not in a position to communicate directly at technical level with OLAF staff.
In a brief statement at the end of the hearing, much of which he spent on courtesies and general comments, Kessler said: “Things are working exactly as [foreseen] in the working arrangements.” He said that OLAF was open to modifications to the arrangements but that he had no choice but to apply them. “We give the supervisory committee access to everything which is in the working arrangement,” he said. “I cannot give these data to the supervisory committee if this is not foreseen in the working arrangements.”
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