Charlemagne: The dragon in the room

HOW clean is the European Union? To its critics, Brussels is a cesspit of waste and fraud. To its supporters, it is often a check on rapacious governments at home. There is no shortage of scandals. In 1999 the Santer commission resigned over fraud, mismanagement and nepotism. In 2011 some MEPs were caught negotiating payments for proposing legislative amendments on behalf of journalists posing as lobbyists. In 2012 a still-murky affair over tobacco regulation brought down the health commissioner, John Dalli from Malta. Yet, as one Brussels lobbyist puts it, “We don’t have a Jack Abramoff,” the American influence-peddler jailed in 2006 for fraud, corruption and tax evasion in a far-reaching scandal involving American Indian casinos.The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) opens hundreds of cases every year, but does not say how many relate to corruption within the EU. The Court of Auditors worries about the “error rate” in the EU’s accounts, which stood at an enormous 4.8% of total spending in 2012. Still, the court is the first to note that irregularities are not a measure of waste or fraud, but of improperly allocated funds (perhaps caused by error or incompetence…

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