Strasbourg comment: Fight against fraud

New EU rules look to tackle 'growing problem' of fraud affecting the union's financial interest, writes Juan Fernando López Aguilar.

By Juan Fernando López Aguilar

Juan Fernando López Aguilar (ES, S&D) is the Chair of Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

17 Apr 2014

This report relating to the proposed directive on the fight against fraud to the union's financial interest by means of criminal law represents an important step forward in EU criminal-law-making. This area has been enhanced with the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, and the European parliament has become a fully-fledged co-legislator in an area that was traditionally considered to be a 'domain réservé' of the state.

"If fraud is committed against the budget or financial interests of the EU then an EU-wide response is required"

The proposal seeks to tackle the growing problem of fraud affecting the EU budget by reducing the differences between the member states' legal frameworks for sanctioning fraud in this area, and harmonising offences across the member states. It is also an important step towards creating the relevant legal framework for a future European public prosecutor's office, as it establishes those criminal offences over which such a prosecutor would have jurisdiction.
As rapporteur, I have worked on the basis that if fraud is committed against the budget or financial interests of the EU then an EU-wide response is required. I acknowledge that such a response must build on the existing acquis communautaire and on the practices already consolidated in the inter-governmental convention on the protection of the European communities' financial interests.
While remaining faithful to the commission proposal, I have sought to refine certain elements. These include expanding the definition of financial interests of the EU to include its assets and liabilities; enhancing the role of Eurojust as a coordinating body with considerable expertise in assisting cross-border prosecutions; trying to draw a sharper distinction between fraud and corruption; ensuring that the core principle of criminal procedural law 'ne bis in idem' (No one may be tried twice for the same offence) continues to be respected throughout the EU in relation to the offences contained in the proposed directive; and changing the legal basis to reflect the fact that the proposal specifically contains EU criminal law measures.
It is to be hoped that when the new parliament takes up its mandate negotiations with the council will proceed smoothly and swiftly so that the directive can be adopted quickly and, as a consequence, criminal activity against the EU's financial interests can be combated in a more coordinated and comprehensive manner across the union in the near future.


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