Patten to face tough questions on EU money for Palestinian terrorists issue

EU Observer 06/18/02: Honor Mahony

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The allegations have been in the air for over two years: EU money is being used by Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority to fund terrorist activities. The claim by Ariel Sharon's government at the beginning of May that it had found "damning evidence" to support this allegation brought the polemic into the open. Concerned at the accusations, the Parliament suspended payment of some 18.5 million euro due to the Palestinians until May 19.

On Wednesday afternoon, Chris Patten, the external relations Commissioner, who has consistently denied that there is any hard evidence to support these claims, will face some tough questions from MEPs in the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, where it then should be decided whether or not to release the money which is part of EU aid going to Palestine since the Oslo Accord in 1993.

MEPs have three main concerns
François Zimeray, who was among the first MEPs to raise this issue with the Commission in 2000, told the EUobserver that while he was not against the principle of financing the Palestinian Authority, he and other MEPs have three main concerns: That the funds designated for the Palestinian police are being used for terrorist actions; that EU-funded infrastructure is being used to shield terrorists; and, finally, that educational material was being used to promote "hatred, violence and martyrdom."

School books contain passages that promote hatred towards Israelis
Both Zimeray and the independent MEP, Olivier Dupuis, stress the problem of the teaching materials. School books are not funded by EU money, but the salaries of teachers who use these books are. The text books contain passages which incite hatred towards Israelis, say the MEPs. Both feel that the EU should then check what is being taught by the teachers. The EU is "not obliged to be blind towards such a situation," urges Zimeray.

The question of direct or indirect funding
Commissioner Patten, says Zimeray, "will claim that there is no hard evidence for direct funding." For Dupuis, the issue also hangs on the question of 'direct' or 'indirect' use of EU money. The point is, he told the EUobserver, that funds "are being used indirectly" to support terrorists and this must also be prevented.

No controls over EU money
"Why do you give 10% of the budget without control" asks Conservative MEP, Armin Laschet, referring to the fact that there is no regulatory body to oversee how the money is being spent. "Somebody from the EU must have control of the money, whether it be the Court of Auditors or OLAF [the European Anti-Fraud Office]", suggested Mr Laschet to the EUobserver. Currently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) checks the payments each month and sends a report to the Commission. However, as Laschet says "they say they do not have control over the money." He also called for a policy change so that money is generally given for specific projects rather than just handed over with few conditions.

If Commissioner Patten is unable on Wednesday to convince MEPs of steps being taken to control exactly where EU money ends up, then it is likely that the suspension of payment will continue until "these many things are checked."

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