September 2000 – An independent committee has criticised the European Union’s fraud investigation unit as too weak to deal with growing cross-border crime. In its first report, the committee set up to monitor the anti-fraud body known by its French acronym OLAF, described the body’s legislative powers as “extremely depressing.”

The watchdog was set up in the wake of the sleaze allegations that led to the mass resignation of the executive commission under Jacques Santer 18 months ago.

The report said the body’s slow progress was particularly disturbing at a time when plans for the circulation of the Euro currency and the EU’s enlargement were underway.

Herbert Bosch, the Austrian member of the European parliament said: “After the resignation of the Commission, I thought there was a real political will, also from the member states, also from the German presidency to come to a new level of fighting fraud inside the Union and inside the European institutions.” He added that funds that supported OLAF could be withdrawn.

Early days

A spokesman for the commission, Steve Morris, said the watchdog was still in its infancy and was doing a good job under the circumstances.

“We need lawyers, investigators, people who can analyse intelligence, people who have experience in the customs service and police,” Mr Morris said. “We currently have 150 people in the office. We will have 200 by Christmas and 300 by next Christmas…and that is going to be before the single currency hits the streets,” he added.

The report has supported calls for the appointment of an EU public prosecutor and an EU magistrates board to strengthen the body.