*From Philip Bushill–Matthews, Tory MEP
TO get direct feedback from voters, the EU regularly commissions special research throughout all Member States on key topics. Called the “Eurobarometer”, samples of ordinary people in each country are polled. The latest survey, just published, covers the important subject of fraud throughout Europe. The results are most revealing. In the UK press we often read lurid headlines about fraud, and mismanagement of EU funds. Surprisingly, people in general seem to regard problems in their own countries as the more significant. When asked which type of fraud was of most concern, an average of over 50% of respondents in all countries nominated ”corruption”. Perhaps appropriately one of the countries most concerned was Italy on 59% – and this research took place before the recent Parmalat scandal was unearthed. 55% of people were concerned about fraud within the new candidate countries, due to join in May this year. Surprisingly however, wrongdoing within existing EU Institutions only weighed in at 23%, with Spain and Portugal being amongst the least fussed at 15% and 11% respectively. Certainly it ought to be a very live issue. With the overall EU budget at around 100 billion pounds a year, the scope for large–scale fraud is clearly immense. On his appointment as Vice–President in charge of Reform, Commissioner Neil Kinnock was charged with sorting it out. Unfortunately little appears to have changed, and no Commissioner will accept responsibility. Last year the EU Chief Accountant revealed publicly that the Commission management systems were so primitive that they were still open to fraud. She was promptly suspended. Later the statistical office, Eurostat, was found to have been fiddling its own figures, with money being siphoned off into dummy accounts. And the EU's own annual accounts have not been signed off by the auditors for the past nine years. When asked who people trusted most to deal with the general problem of EU fraud, 10% said nobody – just ahead of national Governments on 9%. This is not very reassuring. When asked a separate question on whether their own national Governments were fighting effectively against EU fraud, only 24% said yes. In the UK the number was a mere 19%. This is not exactly reassuring either. I certainly believe national Governments could do more in the fight against fraud, if only by raising it relentlessly as an issue. I also believe that MEPs could do more: too many MEPs from certain other political parties appear not prepared to rock the boat, preferring to let sleeping fraudsters lie. But the main solution surely is to reduce the bloated budget, for the EU to do less and do it better. Then there would be so much less to be fraudulent about.