|Vol.7, No.21, 24.5.01, p3
THE EU's anti-fraud office has been asked to investigate the decision to locate the European Commission's third home in a remote area of Ireland rather than in a major town, as originally planned.
A complaint over the way the site for the European Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) was chosen has been handed to OLAF by Jan Karlsson, president of the Court of Auditors.
Patricia McKenna, the Irish Green MEP who first referred the matter to the auditors, believes the EU was misled into accepting an unsuitable location for
the office - the only Commission directorate based outside Brussels or Luxembourg.
"I don't think people realised it was going to go in a really remote area," she said. "They assumed that it was close to a big city or a town which would have a certain amount of infrastructure."
A spokesman for OLAF said a decision on whether an investigation was within its remit will be taken in the next few weeks. If it is they will launch an official probe, he said.
EU leaders decided in 1993 to set up the Food and Veterinary office in a "town" to be chosen by the Irish government. The Commission recommended it should be located in Dublin.
The Irish government decided to house the office 25 miles away in Grange, the site of an existing agricultural establishment and in the constituency of the then prime minister, John Bruton.
As Grange is not a town McKenna says this is in breach of the original mandate. She is backed by other Irish MEPs and many of the 160 FVO staff who are bitterly opposed to the move, scheduled for next year, from their current temporary home in the Irish capital.
Among their concerns are questions about the quality of the drinking water supply at the new FVO site.
In February, European Voice revealed how tests between 1994 and 1998 showed that water supplies to the area were polluted with animal waste.
It emerged this week that tests taken in September 2000 also indicated the presence of harmful coliform and E-coli bacteria.
The Irish government agency responsible to the EU for building the new offices insists that water piped to the site will be drinkable.
Ciaran O'Connor, its senior architect, said further tests had indicated that the supply was clean and that in any case the new office will have its own purpose-built water treatment plant to flush out impurities.
The FVO is technically a directorate of the Commission rather than a separate agency. It was intended to be a showcase for its decentralisation policy of housing staff in offices away from the institution's main homes in Brussels and Luxembourg.
McKenna warns that the furore over the new site is threatening to undermine that whole policy.
"The decision to locate the FVO in Grange was taken despite the knowledge that it would cause the office to fail to function and could undermine future plans to decentralise other departments from Brussels," she said.
Those opposed to the site also claim it is dangerous to house vets, who are travelling all over Europe visiting farms, in an agricultural area.
McKenna said the foot-and-mouth outbreak underlined the risks of such a rural location. "They visit farms where they are in contact with contagious diseases.they will then be coming directly back to another rural area."
The EU's anti-fraud office has been asked to investigate the decision to locate the European Commission's third home in a remote area of Ireland rather than in a major town, as originally planned.
|Politics and International Relations