The EU is strengthening the legal framework for the protection of its financial interests.
The Council today adopted its position at first reading on amendments to the regulation concerning investigations conducted by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). The aim of the new rules is to ensure smooth cooperation between OLAF and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which is expected to become operational in the beginning of 2021. They will also strengthen the framework for investigations carried out by OLAF.
The Council’s position at first reading is based on the agreement reached in the negotiations with the European Parliament this summer and is expected to be approved by the Parliament without amendments at the December plenary.
OLAF was set up in 1999 to conduct administrative investigations relating to the protection of the EU’s financial interests. When it encounters possible criminal offences, it can make a recommendation to national judicial authorities. From 2021, in the member states participating in the EPPO, OLAF will report such suspected offences to the EPPO and support EPPO investigations at the EPPO’s request. In other member states, OLAF will continue its investigations as before.
The EPPO regulation already includes provisions to regulate the relationship between the EPPO and OLAF. They are based on the principles of close cooperation, exchange of information, complementarity and non-duplication.
The new rules adopted by the Council today specify further details of the relationship, in particular as regards the conduct of complementary administrative investigations at OLAF’s initiative. Such investigations will be possible subject to certain conditions, unless the EPPO objects.
The amendments also enhance the effectiveness of OLAF’s investigations, and clarify and simplify some provisions of the OLAF regulation, without changing OLAF’s mandate or powers.
Some of the main improvements concern the conduct of on-the-spot checks and inspections and the admissibility of OLAF’s case reports as evidence in administrative or judicial proceedings. OLAF will also be granted improved rights of access to bank account information in cooperation with competent national authorities, which can be central to uncovering cases of fraud or irregularity when complex money flows are involved.