The EU’s office for investigating fraud involving EU subsidies (OLAF) uncovered cases worth €485 million last year, according to its latest report.
The cases involved mainly subsidies connected to agriculture, fisheries and structural funds, and the member states involved are expected to repay the funds and take legal action against the fraudsters.
As far as the Flemish government – which has authority over those areas – is concerned, there were no cases discovered in the region in 2019, and no money to pay back. That was revealed in the answer to a written question by MEP Emmily Talpe (Open VLD) to the two relevant ministers, Zuhal Demir (N-VA) for environment and Hilde Crevits (for agriculture and fisheries).
According to OLAF, the sum of almost half a billion euros on fraud might seem high, but it has to be seen in the context of a total subsidy budget of around €148 billion.
“Nevertheless, that is still an increase of €114 million compared to the €371 million that had to be recovered in 2018,” Talpe told Vilt, the Flemish information centre for agriculture and horticulture.
“Reports of this kind regularly appear in the press about the use of European funds in the context of the common agricultural policy (CAP). Those reports invariably concern amounts throughout the European Union.”
“Inquiries within the environment policy area inform us that there are no known cases of fraud and recovery of European funds,” said Demir in her answer.
Talpe addressed the same question to Crevits, and also received a reassuring answer.
“No money was recovered by OLAF for 2019 from Flanders with regard to the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy,” said Crevits in her reply. There had in fact been one investigation initiated by OLAF in 2019.
“But in that one investigation the suspicion turned out to be unjustified,” she said. “The file could be closed. There had been no incorrect expenditures and therefore no refund had to be made.”
All subsidies in the region are subject to administrative controls, Crevits said, including cross-checks (for cases where subsidies for the same project are being sought from different agencies), spot-checks and automation.
The European Find for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries within the Flemish government carries out a fraud risk analysis using a tool provided by the EU itself, which can carry out systematic checks at the beginning and end of any project, she said.
“That means that agricultural funding is used very properly in our region,” said Talpe. “And that goes for agricultural, fisheries and rural policy. I would like to compliment our farmers for this. They have earned it.”