DETERRING EU FRAUD BY INFORMING THE PUBLIC : OLAF ROUND TABLE ON ANTI-FRAUD COMMUNICATION

OLAF/04/20 Brussels, the 25 October 2004

Can information and communication help fight and prevent EU fraud and corruption? High ranking experts, politicians, magistrates, senior law enforcement agents, scientists and journalists are analysing this question in a newly created section on the website of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) called the "Round Table on Anti-Fraud Communication". The issue is complex because information on fraud and corruption always needs to take into account the rights not only of citizens and taxpayers to be informed on wrongdoings concerning the public sector but also those of the individuals affected. A lawsuit presented to the European Court of First Instance, inter alia, over a press release issued by OLAF is only the most recent example in this debate.

The first Eurobarometer survey on anti-fraud activities, published in January 2004, shows that 3 out of 4 persons asked agree that the EU should give more information about anti-fraud campaigns and success stories, and that 56% of the EU citizens feel that the media does not inform them enough on the EU fight against this type of fraud.

Unlike "concrete" crimes like robbery or theft, acts of fraud against EU funds appear to be anonymous: there seem to be no individual victims and therefore many people might perceive the damages as less severe. To explain that looting the EU-funds negatively affects all European taxpayers and consumers - who altogether contribute to the Union's budget - is one of the main objectives of the EU-anti-fraud communication Round Table. "A pro-active strategy calls for disclosure of detected irregularities and engaging in public debate on how to counter fraud", explains Michaele Schreyer, European Commissioner in charge of the fight against fraud, in her statement included in the newly created section on the OLAF website: the "OLAF Round Table on Anti-Fraud CommunicationAll available translations.".

However, the disclosure of information on fraud or corruption may sometimes lead to conflict: The secrecy of the investigations as well as the rights of the persons affected have to be protected. A lawsuit presented to the European Court of First Instance challenging, inter alia, a press releaseAll available translations. issued by OLAF is only the most recent example of these opposing interests.

Taking into account that media relations are only a part of an anti-fraud communication policy, many more questions arise: Should an investigative service have the competence and duty to communicate on its work or rather remain silent? Where is the proper balance? How to reconcile the interests of investigative journalists with the necessary secrecy of investigations? - The OLAF Round Table on Anti-Fraud Communication is a new forum for analysis by experts on institutional communication (in anti-fraud, police and other law enforcement matters), academia (legal, economic, journalistic and communication fields), members of investigative and judicial services, officials of the European Institutions, journalists and any other persons from other fields dealing with related matters.

Some of the contributorsAll available translations. to this debate are the Members of the European Parliament Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Paulo Casaca, Lorenzo Cesa and Gianni Pitella; the journalists Paolo di Giannantonio, Cristian Unteanu and Johannes von Dohnanyi; Corinne Cléostrate, from French Customs; Ioan Amariei, the Romanian National Anti-Corruption Prosecutor; Professor Gérard Dubois, from the French Alliance against Tobacco, and General Italo Pappa, from the Italian Guardia di Finanza.

The virtual Round Table on Anti-Fraud Communication is part of the OLAF activities within the framework of the Europe-wide "OLAF Anti-Fraud Communicators Network" (OAFCN). It will be followed up by a training seminar on the same topic which the OAFCN will organise at the end of November in Brussels.

Alessandro Butticé
Head of Communication, PR and Spokesman Unit
Tel : +32 (0)2 296.54.25
Fax : +32 (0)2 299.81.01

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