Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is Sir Robert Atkins a hypocritical coward

No really I mean it, he is one or the other or both. I will explain because that sounds a little harsh.

Bob Atkins, as he is known in these parts (I will explain that a little later too), got his knighthood for being the only fellow who bothered to turn up to the cricket with John Major. At the dissolution honours Major is believed to have turned to his private secretary and said, "We must do something for Robert Atkins". His officials' response was a piece of magnificent Humphreyness, "No we don't Prime Minister".

Be that as it may, he is over here now as the Tory MEP for the North West of England and has for the last couple of years been the member responsible for a report into the activities of OLAF.

This report is the Parliamentary follow-up to a special report from the European Ombudsman into the case of Hans Martin Tillack, the Germen journalist who was stitched up and arrested for having the temerity to reveal the infamous EUROSTAT affair. It was he in his Stern columns that brought the whole sorry saga into the public domain after he was falsely accused of bribery by the European Anti fraud office OLAF. That was then, and is now, run by the egregious German Franz Herman Bruner.

Here is what Bob said in November last year:

I am particularly interested in the Ombudsman's special reports. He will know that I am the rapporteur manqué for one such report, relating to OLAF. He must know, as must this House, that I will not allow this issue to go away. Transparency and open dealing must be paramount and this report must and will be dealt with when the judicial process is completed.
Quite right too. He followed that up only a few short weeks ago, on the 25th October when he said:

Finally, may I make a brief reference to an outstanding special report by the Ombudsman, namely that relating to a complaint against OLAF. As the Petitions Committee rapporteur for this issue, I give notice now that, the judicial process having been completed on this case, I will not allow the issue of the special report to be swept under the carpet. It will be reconsidered as soon as is practically possible.
Again, I agree with every word. So how is that on November 7th he has placed this amendment:

AMENDMENT by Robert Atkins, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group notes that, in the light of the decision of the Court of First Instance dated 4 October 2006, which found that no breach of law had been committed regarding the action taken by OLAF, Parliament's proceedings on the outstanding Special Report of the Ombudsman referring to complaint 2485/2004/GG require to be closed;
A little bit of textural analysis makes in plain that this amendment was not in fact written by Bob himself, he is a stickler for correct English and he would never have written that final sentence, indeed no native English speaker would have written it, "parliament's proceedings... require to be closed" is pretty ugly stuff. However the meaning is pretty clear. This report is to be shelved, through an amendment signed by the proposed rapporteur.

Paul van Buitenen was the civil servant who complied the great dossier on the corruption, and who was elected to the European Parliament on the back of his sterling work. This is what he has written to the Ombudsman, the President of Parliament and the heads of the political groups:

Dear Mr. Pöttering,

In May 2005, the EU Ombudsman issued a Special Report on maladministration by OLAF concerning its bribery claim against German journalist Mr. Tillack and the misleading information that OLAF provided to the Ombudsman during his inquiry into this matter. The European Ombudsman formally requested the European Parliament to issue an official opinion on his Special Report.

For more than two years, the EP Committee on Petitions, and its Committee rapporteur, Sir Robert Atkins, have tried to prepare a report on this subject, but they were stopped on several occasions by the Conference of Presidents, arguing that the case was sub judice. An official legal opinion substantiating this argument was never shown.

Now there is an amendment, tabled by Sir Robert Atkins on behalf of the EPP Group to the report Iturgaiz on the 2006 activities of the Petitions Committee, seeking to close Parliament's procedures concerning the Ombudsman's Special Report to Parliament on OLAF.

The judgment of the European Court of First Instance of 4 October 2006, on which the amendment relies, does not, in fact, provide justification for closing Parliament's procedures on the Special Report. The judgement never dealt with the specific subject of the Ombudsman's Special Report to Parliament, that is, the fact that OLAF misled the Ombudsman when he was carrying out an inquiry into a complaint.

On the contrary, the judgment clearly states that: "the classification of an act of maladministration by the Ombudsman does not mean, in itself, that OLAF's conduct constitutes a sufficiently serious breach of a rule of law within the meaning of the case-law. In the institution of the Ombudsman, the Treaty has given citizens of the Union, and more particularly officials and other servants of the Community, an alternative remedy to that of an action before the Community Courts in order to protect their interests. That alternative non-judicial remedy meets specific criteria and does not necessarily have the same objective as judicial proceedings".

Thus, considering that the amendment is based on wrong premises, and considering the serious institutional implications of the amendment if it were adopted in the voting tomorrow, I ask you to declare it inadmissible pursuant to Rule 151(3).

Yours sincerely,

Paul van Buitenen
So essentially Bob's amendment is not only deeply contradictory, given his previous statements but also it is materially incorrect. So why did he sign it?

Well the only credible suggestion is an attempt to cover up the malfeasance on the part of OLAF boss Bruner. He is presently in the job only because at the hearing to decide whether his term should be extended. As was mentioned at the time in February of last year in EUObserver (behind a firewall) on 8 February 2006:

The European Commission has overruled member states' request for a new head of the EU's internal anti-fraud agency OLAF. Under EU rules the Commission has to consult member states and the European Parliament, but the final decision rests in its hands.

The Commission's decision to re-appoint Franz-Hermann Bruner will be controversial, because Mr Bruner has been attacked by the EU Ombudsman for his handling of the Tillack case, and was in charge when leaked OLAF documents said that the agency conducts "fake investigations".

He has also been criticised for his mishandling of the major Eurostat fraud scandal. Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger argued that OLAF should be "a special case," exempt from the principle that top Commission officials have to be rotated every seven years.
Not only was the Council overruled by the Commission, but so was the Parliament's budgetary control Committee who voted for somebody else to get the job. The fact that the leaders of the two main political groups were at the time German, of course cannot have had any bearing on the case.

Indeed the suggestions were at the time that there were dark and undue influences floating about the place, after all, who more than the head of the anti fraud office has dirt on people?

This case may be arcane, but it is massive importance to good governance and the rule of law.

Oh yes I promised to explain the Bob reference. While Iain Duncan Smith was Tory leader, he turned up at Brussels and held an in camera meeting with the Tory MEPs. Atkins was blathering about how ghastly and Eurosceptic he was. IDS cut him off with the words, "Bob we all know you position on this". Jonathan Evans, MEP leader pushed a hastily scribbled note under his nose, "Sir Robert hates being called Bob". IDS scribbled back, "I know".


EZnow said...

This morning I asked 'brave Sir Robert' and he vowed that there will be a report on the Ombudsman's special report, one way or another - it's just still awaiting approval from higher up. According to him, the report will focus on what the OLAF told the Ombudsman, not on what the OLAF told the Belgian federal judicial authorities of 'even braver Sir Hans-Martin' (my words, not his).

Elaib Harvey said...

so Bob gets his own report abolished, then says he will still have a report when 'higher authorities' (The Conference of Presidents has already stated (This week) that if the amendment is passed then there will be no report.
And the comment about the ombudsman is frankly bizzare. The report he was scheduled to write was always about the maladministration by OLAF in its dealings with the Ombudsman so that is a straw man arguement. Curioser and curioser said Alice.