Members of the European Parliament have accused bureaucrats in the European Commission of lying, hiding behind their status and prevaricating in an eight-year campaign to cover up massive corruption. A report by a parliamentary committee has found billions of pounds have vanished over the years from the commission's Tourism Directorate. The accusations follow two official investigations, 19 internal audits, two disciplinary hearings and police inquiries in Belgium, France and Greece. Now the MEPs, who say civil servants are more concerned to cover up than investigate, are threatening to refuse to approve the commission's annual accounts. This would amount to an official vote of no confidence in the way the commission administers the European Union's GBP60 billion (HK$760 billion) annual budget. The MEPs also want to know the outcome of a further 700 inquiries by the commission's widely discredited internal anti-fraud unit. The problems highlighted in the report relate to long-standing inquiries into kickback payments totalling more than GBP1 million that were allegedly received by Eurocrats in return for grants to tourism projects between 1989 and 1995. But everybody knows this is only the tip of the iceberg. According to the latest report by the EU Court of Auditors, in 1996 nearly GBP3 billion - or 42 per cent - of the tourism budget alone disappeared. In the complex EU world of grants and subsidies there are loopholes everywhere. There were vast overpayments to German farmers back in the days of reunification. Recently there have been claims - admittedly denied - that the commission agreed to write off fines imposed on Greece for tobacco subsidy fraud in return for support recently in a vote on ending tobacco advertising and sponsorship in sport. The sponsorship ban was passed in December by the narrowest of majorities - and only after a last-minute deal with Greece. About 5.5 per cent of the annual EU budget disappears by 'irregular' means. 'The EU supports too many small programmes and projects. We have to concentrate more on undertakings of critical mass,' said budget commissioner Erkki Liikanen this week. But that is only part of the story. Revenues are being lost because of discrepancies between member states in collecting customs duties and value added tax.