EU Funds to protect the EU’s financial interests

Article written by Kurt Cortis, Executive at Servizzi Ewropej f'Malta

Published in The Malta Independent

The new EU Anti-Fraud Programme was developed to combat irregularities, fraud and corruption affecting the EU budget, with the aim of enhancing the competitiveness of the Union’s economy and ensuring the protection of taxpayers’ money. With a budget of €181 million, this programme seeks to support Member States’ efforts to prevent and combat fraud and corruption nationally and transnationally.

The EU’s anti-fraud and corruption efforts first started in 2004 with the Hercule I programme. Subsequent programmes, Hercule II and III, continued to help EU Member States fight fraud, corruption and other illegal activities nationally by financing projects which, for example, allowed national authorities to purchase technical and state-of-the-art equipment to combat smuggling and other criminal activities.

The new EU Anti-Fraud Programme for the 2021-2027 period sets the following objectives: to safeguard the EU’s financial interests; to provide tools for mutual assistance in customs matters, and; to support the reporting of fraud and irregularities by Member States.

In this regard, the programme supports projects involving targeted training and exchange between anti-fraud enforcers across Europe. The aim is to create networks between Member States in order to facilitate the exchange of information, experience and best practices, as well as to further develop, improve and update staff's skills and competences, to better be able to safeguard the Union’s financial interest.

Moreover, the programme also supports enforcement investigative activities through the purchase of technical equipment. Eligible entities can apply to purchase and maintain investigative, detection and identification tools used in the fight against irregularities, fraud and corruption; for example, the fight against tobacco smuggling and counterfeiting. In this regard, enforcers can apply under this programme to procure devices for inspecting containers, trucks and vehicles at the Union’s external borders and within the Union. Such equipment would contribute to the strengthening of beneficiaries’ operational and technical capacity to detect smuggled and counterfeited goods.

Lastly, eligible entities can also apply for the purchase, transport, training, lodging and feeding of animals that are used to detect smuggled and illicit goods on the basis of their scent. Thus, strengthening and improving the beneficiaries’ technical capacity to carry out verifications and searches to detect smuggled and counterfeited goods.

Servizzi Ewropej f’Malta (SEM) is a Government agency serving as the main point of contact on all EU-related matters. Amongst its various services, SEM assists local organisations such as Government entities, local councils and non-governmental organisations to access EU-funding opportunities, through personalised assistance on the practical aspects related to EU Funding, such as project development and writing. Once a project is selected for funding, SEM can also assist local entities to implement the project.

As the national authority tasked with protecting the financial interests of the Union, in 2018 Malta Customs sought funding from the Hercule III programme (the predecessor of the current EU Anti-Fraud Programme). Malta Customs was assisted by SEM to develop a project and apply for funding, seeking to upgrade its mobile x-ray tunnel vans and train its relevant staff tasked with operating the equipment. The application was selected for funding and Malta Customs received the necessary EU funds to implement the project.

In purchasing such equipment, this project strengthened Malta Customs’ operational and technical capacity to detect smuggled and counterfeit goods, by targeting control operations, with additional functionality for the scanning of personal luggage and commercial packages at various entry points around Malta.

Ultimately, this EU funded project allowed Malta Customs to upgrade and phase out its previous system, as well as further developing the staffs’ skills and competences needed to operate the equipment and conduct their work more effectively and efficiently.

The first calls under the EU Anti-Fraud Programme were published in July 2021 with eligible entities having the opportunity to submit proposals targeting various topics, such as the detention of illicit trade or staff exchanges. 

Some of the eligible entities for grants under this programme are public bodies (from EU Member States or associated third countries) and non-profit making entities. Eligible entities vary from one call to another.

For more information on the new Anti-Fraud Programme or any other matter related to the EU, kindly contact SEM on or 2200 3300.