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EU auditors criticize bloc’s efforts to fight budget fraud

Brussels - The European Court of Auditors (ECA) slammed EU efforts to fight budget fraud, in a critical report issued which points to a lack of information about the scale, nature and causes of the misappropriation of funding.

No complete picture

Each year, the European Union spends billions of euros to support regional infrastructure projects, farmers, research programmes and other initiatives aimed at benefiting under-resourced areas and reducing economic imbalances among member states.

Not all of that is spent in line with EU law, with the European Commission identifying 308 million euros (355 million dollars) worth of fraud in 2017, or just under 0.3 per cent of budget expenditure.

The actual figure could be a lot higher, according to the ECA, which noted that the commission figures "do not provide a complete picture" of the actual fraud level in the EU.

Robust fraud reporting system

Furthermore, suspects have been prosecuted in less than half of the identified cases of fraud, on average, the ECA noted. Between 2012 and 2016, just 15 per cent of the recommended amount of misspent money was recovered, it added.

The report calls on the EU's executive to establish a robust fraud reporting system, allocate a commissioner to the issue and reform its anti-fraud office, OLAF, among other things.

EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger played down the report, however.

"There is nothing really new in this report. Most areas of improvements we have already tackled, or are about to," Oettinger wrote on Twitter, referring to the decision to set up a European Public Prosecutor's Office by 2020, among other things.

"We have zero tolerance for fraud and corruption with EU funds," the commissioner later noted.