Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Labour abstain on bid to probe aid to Arafat

Jewish Chronicle - 7 February 2003

By Bernard Josephs And John Miller

British Labour MEPs came under criticism this week from Tories - and Jewish community leaders - for withholding support for a demand that the EU investigate whether its aid money is being used by the Palestinian Authority to finance terror.

Israel has alleged that up to one-tenth of EU aid has been used for "non-transparent" purposes, including support for terrorists.

The criticism of Labour came as a campaign, led by Tory Charles Tannock and a number of fellow- MEPs, to propose such a probe succeeded in getting enough signatories. EU rules require a quarter of MEPs - 157 out of a total of 626 - to present such the motion. The organisers announced this week that 170 MEPs, from a range of parties, had signed.

With none of British Labour's 28 MEPs on the list, Tory MEP David Sumberg said: "I suspect the Labour MEPs received orders from the Foreign Office not to sign the motion."

Gillian Shephard, MP, chair of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said that she found it "astonishing that this initiative has not been supported by any Labour MEP."

Board of Deputies vice-president Tony Sacker, while hailing the success of the petition, said the lack both of Labour and Liberal Democrat support was "disappointing."

The success of the Tannock initiative meant that the call for a probe into how the Palestinian Authority uses it £6.6 million in monthly EU aid money - an initiative opposed by EC External Affairs Commissioner Sir Chris Patten - must now be considered by the European Parliament's council of party presidents.

They, in turn, will then refer the matter back to Parliament for a vote.

Sir Chris has argued that it was the International Monetary Fund's job to monitor and police the aid - not the EU's.

On Wednesday, however - a day after the Tannock petition was presented ― the EU's anti-fraud office announced it had in fact been investigating allegations that EU funding might be getting diverted for terrorist purposes. A spokesman said this probe would last for several months.

The Labour MEPs' absence from the petition was made more glaring, the organisers maintained, by the fact that members of parties ranging from Conservative to Communist were among the signatories.

A spokeswoman for Gary Titley - leader of the British Labour MEPs, and generally supportive of Israel - declined to comment on the issue. But she referred to a letter in the Daily Telegraph by MEP Glyn Ford, which said that "the fact that one does not sign [on to] Charles Tannock's approach to dealing with this does not mean that one is not concerned."

There were better ways of investigating the possible misuse of aid, he asserted, "than by indulging MEPs' enthusiasm for political posturing."

The success of the petition followed months of lobbying, with Mr Patten suggesting at one point that an investigation was needed "like a hole in the head," and Israel presenting a dossier to the EU alleging that 10 per cent of the PA's budget was being spent on activities that were "not transparent" - including, the Israelis maintained, terrorism.

Mr Tannock told the JC he was "delighted" at the support his initiative had received. His call for an inquiry, he added, had not been intended as a measure to undermine the Palestinians.

Rather, he suggested: "It could clear the way for new aid to the PA once it can be shown that the money is used for much-needed reconstruction of the West Bank and Gaza." It was the Palestinians, he asserted, who were "cheated by the corruption of funds being implicated in terrorist causes."

François Zimeray, a French Socialist MEP who led the campaign along with Mr Tannock, said the initiative was an effort to ensure transparency concerning the use of European taxpayers' money.