Select Committee on European Union Thirteenth Report


Letter from Kate Hoey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office to the Chairman of Sub-Committee E

  I welcome this Report, which provides an extremely useful insight into the complex area of prosecuting fraud on the Communities' finances, and Corpus Juris. Although the Report makes no formal recommendations for action by the Government, the Committee's Opinion raises a number of points on which I would like to offer comments.

  First, the Government welcomes the Committee's conclusion that Corpus Juris is not a realistic way forward, and agrees with the Committee's view that energy and resources would be better directed towards improving mutual legal assistance and practical co-operation. The Government recognises the need for further review and up-dating of the arrangements in the UK for mutual legal assistance (MLA). The Government also accepts the suggestion that co-operation could be facilitated by a greater understanding by practitioners of each other's laws and procedures. For this purpose the Judicial Co-operation Unit at the Home Office has prepared a revised edition of the guidelines to assist judicial and prosecuting authorities abroad wishing to seek legal assistance from the UK. These will be published on the Internet.

  The Government also welcomes the Committee's support for the UK's discussion paper on mutual recognition. Having sought other Member States' views on the paper, we believe that it will a central theme at the Tampere European Council in October. On a more practical level, the Finnish Presidency is currently drawing up an annual work programme that will set out a structured timetable for consideration of the UK's proposals. The Government also intends to pursue the Committee's concern about possible discrimination in the application of remand and bail rules where the accused is from another Member State, as part of the follow-up to the mutual recognition paper.

  On Fiscal Liaison Officers, the Government shares the Committee's view that serious consideration should be given to extending the network, and will take that view into account when considering resources. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have recently obtained funding from the European Union under the Falcone programme for a Fiscal Liaison Officer to be seconded to the Italian Guardia di Finanza for six months. The officer will examine the viability of a permanent attachment of a second officer to Italy.

  Finally, the Government welcomes the Committee's comments on the importance of reforming the Commission and its internal procedures for investigating fraud. I am pleased to be able to report that on 1 June the European anti-fraud office was established along the lines called for by the UK. There is still much more work to be done, and the Government will press the new Commission to implement root and branch reform. In order to achieve this the new Commission President, Romano Prodi, has recently appointed Neil Kinnock as the Vice-President for administrative reform and has promised that he will present a programme of far-reaching reform to the Council by February 2000. We expect that this will include reinforcement of the Commission's fraud-proofing policy.

23 July 1999

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