Wall Street Journal - 6 February 2003
EU Commissioner for external affairs Chris Patten yesterday said he "welcomed" the decision by the Commission's independent anti-fraud office (OLAF) to investigate the aid to the Palestinian Authority that his office oversees. But this was making virtue out of necessity. The decision to probe into the murky PA finances was forced on him.
This was the second victory in a week for rationality when it comes to EU aid to Yasser Arafat's little kleptocracy. Late last week European Parliamentarian Charles Tannock, one of Mr. Patten's fellow British Tories, won a hard-fought battle when he was able to put together the required signatures to get a vote on setting up a separate parliamentary probe into this aid. That vote isn't certain, but from all corners, reality is closing in that not everyone agrees with Mr. Patten that everything is squeaky clean when it comes to the PA's use of EU money.
Israel is not in good odor with many in Brussels, but it is the victim of Palestinian terrorism, so its voice should perhaps carry some weight. It has presented evidence that the PA has paid money to terrorists and that Arafat has signed the checks. Money is fungible. That which goes to pay for civil servants' salaries frees up other funds that Arafat can spend as he wishes. While giving few details, OLAF said yesterday that its investigation would be based on "information received . . . in recent months from a number of different sources."
And yet Mr. Patten continued yesterday to brazen it out, his statement saying that, "The Commission has fully investigated repeated allegations that some of these budgetary payments may have been misused. No evidence to that effect has yet come to light." He keeps talking about "rigorous controls" and insisting that "we have shared all information," but obviously not everyone is in agreement.
Mr. Tannock, for one, told us yesterday that though the OLAF probe does not obviate the need for a full parliamentary inquiry that would have all the statutory powers necessary, "I welcome any further tightening up of procedures to ensure that aid is not being diverted to terrorist ends."
Commissioner Patten is a good man, who learned to be tough first in Westminster politics and then fighting for democracy in Hong Kong as that former British colony's last governor. But he should perhaps be asking himself right now if he doesn't think he's gone down the wrong path by sticking so strongly with Arafat's PA. A lot of other people are asking that question, at least.