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MEPS GRILL PEDRO SOLBES AND CHRIS PATTEN ON EUROSTAT AND CESD.

The European Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control decided on December 2 to spurn an advisory opinion on restoring all the appropriations banked for Eurostat. The Committee on Budgets had reduced the funding to 15% for operational appropriations and 10% for administrative appropriations. The second reading of the General EU Budget for 2004 is scheduled to take place during the European Parliament's December 15 - 18 plenary session. MEPs on the Budgetary Control Committee voted for this course of action after a fresh interview with Pedro Solbes, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, as part of the follow-up to the 2001 discharge procedure. Mr Solbes repeated that the main cause of the Eurostat issue was the lack of smooth communications between the Directorate-General and himself. He stressed that the European Commission was in the process of recovering 2 million worth of the 6 million of dodgy contracts between Eurostat and Planistat, whose manager is being investigated by the French courts. Mr Solbes said that in future Eurostat data would be free and available on the Internet.

On December 1, the Committee on Budgetary Control interviewed Chris Patten, Commissioner for External Relations, in the midst of a related issue: a Euro 10 million contract, without any calls for proposals, for the non-profit-making European Centre for Statistics and Development. The CESD was given the job of carrying out, on the basis of an agreement with the Council of Europe, a population census in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The contract was sealed in December 2001 (the amber light was given in August) even though the Court of Auditors had already singled out the CESD, which was created by the erstwhile Director-General of Eurostat, Yves Franchet, and has been the subject of an OLAF investigation since September 2001.

Mr Patten denied any knowledge of the OLAF inquiry, whose report was issued only in March of this year. The contract with the CESD was terminated the following July. He said only a few organisations had the CESD's expertise in carrying out a consensus as complicated as the one conducted in the FYROM to identify the various communities in this country. "The idea is to be able to guarantee respect for minorities as provided for by the framework peace restoration agreement. I would have been in big political trouble if I had had to put this contract through a call for proposals and await the end of the entire procedure, when people were being killed in the region", Mr Patten protested, pointing out that after the Commission had terminated the contract, the Council of Europe had taken over with the same CESD. Mr Patten said that if we had to start again with what we knew at the time, we would have taken the same course of action.

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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Dec 3, 2003
Words:464
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