As expenditure on roads and other infrastructure increase in south-east Europe the MEP’s and the European Commission have begun to push for an EU budget increase of 6.8% for 2013. With this in mind a recent Italian scandal becomes rather ironic.
After yesterday’s news that Italy’s budget deficit has risen during the first quarter of 2012 to its highest levels in three years, it has been disclosed that Rome has had to repay a massive £307 million to the EU after it’s anti-fraud investigators unearthed alarming irregularities surrounding road repairs. Although ANAS, Italy’s national roads agency, has claimed that the need for repayment was the result of a misunderstanding, other reports claim that during the upgrade of the stretch of A3 motorway between Salerno and Reggio-Calabria over 381 million euro’s were ‘lost’ through fraudulent action, such as the faking of contracts. For years allegations of corruption have followed the Salerno-Reggio Calabria autostrada – particularly as the region of Calabria is infamous for its organized crime syndicate, the ’Ndrangheta Mafia whose notoriety has grown beyond that of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra.
This mammoth repayment made up over half of the £555 million detected and recovered fraud in last year’s EU’s budget and is the largest refund in the history of the EU. During a time in which there are increasing concerns that Italy is not in control of its finances this issue has only served to deepen the nation’s budget deficit as the burden for repayment falls on the Italian taxpayer.
Giovanni Kessler, the head of the EU anti-fraud investigatory body Olaf, stated that ‘The sum has been formally recovered following investigations focusing on two separate intervention programs, spread over several years, but all concerning the Salerno-Reggio Calabria autostrada.’
With austerity measures and recession woes dominating finances, and the public being urged to make cutbacks by Prime Minister Mario Monti, concern has been expressed that similar instances of fraud will go unreported, overlooked or ignored by a government burdened with a national debt of 1.9 trillion euro.
Mr Kessler has further asserted that there has been a worrying decrease in the amount of information coming from public authorities. He went on to say that in this time of financial turbulence EU funds are desperately required to promote growth which makes the fight against fraud particularly crucial.
With such stories dominating the news, public fear that Italy will become another casualty of the euro-crisis grows.
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