Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The single European airbrush

Fraud is back on the agenda, brought to us courtesy of a new blogger: "England expects" from which much is expected.

Its tale concerns that obscure – to the point of being virtually unknown – "advisory body" of the EU, the European Economic and Social Committee that body which produces worthy reports on commission proposals that no one can remember.

But, worthy documents require worthies to produce them and they, in the way of things EU, require constant lubrication by way of expenses. And, also in the way of things EU, these trusted worthies are so deep into the trough that they – or at least one of them – has been claiming their expenses twice, and has been getting them paid. Over the last six years, up to €45,000 may have gone missing.

More embarrassingly, allegations of this malpractice last year were vigorously denied. But so strident were that that, according Agence Europe, in April 2004, that ever-vigilant watchdog, the EU parliament:

…gave smooth discharge to the EESC's implementation of its 2002 budget, thanking the EESC for transmitting to the EP details of internal measures governing the execution of its budget, and the mission statement of its internal auditor. In its resolution, the EP said it took note of the assurances given by the EESC that no irregularities had occurred in the travel expense accounts.
However, it seems that the denials were not good enough for the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF which has just come up with a report that confirms that an (unnamed) EESC member has indeed been indulging in double dipping.

That much has been admitted by the EESC, in an anodyne and thus widely ignored press release issued on 4 February.

However, courtesy of England expects, we learn that the airbrush had been heavily at work before this production was allowed to see the light of day. The original draft of the release actually stated: "there is strong prima facie evidence that the fraudulent practice of ‘double reimbursement’ occurred. But, in the published version, a copy of which this Blog has obtained, the text becomes: "there is strong prima facie evidence that the practice of 'double reimbursement' occurred."

And to spare the political blushes of EESC president, the fragrant Anne-Marie Sigmund, the OLAF report which was sent, "to the President and the Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee ", became: "to the Secretary General of the European Economic and Social Committee". Of course the reference to "alleged fraudulent behaviour by a member of the Committee" became "allegations made about a member of the Committee".

One wonders whether Peter Mandelson might have had a hand in writing the second draft but, whether or not he did, it is very clear that the single European airbrush has been at work. However, OLAF is forwarding its findings to the Belgian public prosecutor, which may be beyond the range of the airbrush.

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