Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Euro-MPs urge inquiry into EU aid to Palestinians.

Reuters News Service - 26 November 2002

A group of European lawmakers called on Tuesday for an investigation into how European Union aid to the Palestinian Authority has been spent, but the executive Commission said a probe was unnecessary. The European Commission allocates some 10 million euros ($10 million) a month to help pay salaries of state employees in the Palestinian Authority, devastated by Israeli military and economic pressure during a two-year Palestinian uprising.

Some members of the European Parliament expressed concern about a possible misuse of the aid, despite the Commission's insistence that auditing procedures are very strict. "We are demanding a full parliamentary committee of inquiry that can look into allegations of misuse of funds in great depth," said Charles Tannock, a British Conservative MEP.

He told Reuters about 100 MEPs had so far signed a petition backing such a probe. Under the rules of the 626-member assembly, a petition needs 150 signatures to trigger an inquiry.

EU Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten dismissed the call for a probe, saying it would undermine moderates in the Palestinian Authority, and thus scupper any hopes of halting the cycle of violence in the Middle East.

"An inquiry would make it enormously difficult to continue providing aid (to the Palestinian Authority)," Patten told a meeting of the Parliament's foreign affairs committee. Patten said Israel itself was using the same bank account as the Commission did after it recently resumed some of the payments of customs receipts owed to the Authority and frozen two years ago because of the conflict.

Earlier this year, Israel accused the Palestinian Authority of using EU aid to finance "terrorism", but the Commission said at that time its checks uncovered no evidence of any wrongdoing. In a robust rebuttal of suggestions that the EU had been soft on Palestinian militants, Patten said the Commission had led international pressure for reform of the Authority.

"We have insisted on reform since we began the administrative assistance in 2001," he said."If we sunder relations with the Palestinian Authority it will be very difficult to claim that the EU is playing any kind of role in the Middle East region," Patten added.

© Reuters Limited 2002.