Protecting the financial interests of the EU
In these times, where Europe must prove more than ever before that every euro in the EU's budget is well spent, it is important that the Commission shows its determination to fight crime affecting the EU's financial interests. With more than 90% of the EU budget managed nationally, common criminal law rules against fraud are needed to ensure that acts of fraud are prosecuted evenly across the Union.
Each euro lost to fraud can then not be invested into growth and jobs, which is the main objective of the EU budget. Today, the Commission proposed new rules to fight EU budget fraud in the form of a Directive providing a harmonised framework for prosecuting and punishing crimes involving the EU budget so that criminals can no longer exploit differences between national legal systems.
“The current approach to protecting EU funds across Europe is patchy at best. Fraudsters should not escape prosecution and sanctions simply because of their geographical location. European taxpayers' money must be robustly protected in every Member State. Today's proposal is an important step in that direction", said Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner responsible for anti-fraud.
The existing interpretation of what constitutes EU budget fraud and the severity of penalties differs from one country to another. The proposed Directive therefore provides common definitions of crimes against the EU budget as well as establishing common prescription periods, within which the case must be investigated and prosecuted, and minimum sanctions, including imprisonment for the most serious cases. The offences defined include fraud and other fraud related crimes, such as corruption, the misappropriation of funds, money laundering and obstruction of public procurement procedures to the detriment of the EU budget. Harmonised rules in this field will allow more effective legal action and facilitate the recovery of lost funds, in turn helping to safeguard taxpayers' money.
"EU money must not be pocketed by criminals. It is crucial to put in place EU criminal law rules of the highest standard, in order to protect our taxpayers' money. Our aim is clear: to ensure that EU budget fraud does not go unpunished, in turn saving taxpayers' money. Today's proposal will help overcome the current patchwork of EU criminal law provisions, where some Member States punish one crime with imprisonment whilst others take no action", said Vice-President Viviane Reding.
This proposal follows the adoption by the Commission in May 2011 of the Communication on the protection of the financial interests of the European Union by criminal law and by administrative investigations , which contained proposals to improve the protection of EU financial interests and established a policy of zero tolerance on fraud against the EU. This is what the Commission has now put into a concrete legislative proposal.