After a few months of delay, the European public prosecutor’s office, the new body intended to fight against fraud of European Union (EU) funds, begins its investigations on Tuesday 1is June, in time to monitor the use of some 750 billion euros of the stimulus plan which is about to be distributed.
Its leader, Laura Kövesi, formerly head of the Romanian anti-corruption prosecution, welcomed “A historic moment”. “Our success is a question of credibility for our union”, she said, stressing that the establishment of this body had required “More than two decades of discussions” and “Difficult political negotiations”.
Its launch was not without a hitch. Initially scheduled for the end of 2020, it had to be postponed in particular because the 22 participating states were slow to appoint their delegated prosecutors. Two have not yet done so: Slovenia and Finland.
The Office of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, the official name of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, in English, or EPPO – will work “Completely independent from the Commission, other EU institutions and bodies, as well as Member States”.
What is the competence of the European public prosecutor’s office?
This supranational body is responsible for not only investigating but also prosecuting and bringing to justice those responsible for offenses affecting the EU budget. An unprecedented power that the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) did not have.
The offenses in this category concern embezzlement of European funds and corruption, cross-border VAT fraud involving at least two Member States and amounts of more than 10 million euros, and money laundering.
For cross-border VAT fraud alone, the EU estimates the damage at 30 to 60 billion euros per year. For other offenses, the estimates are around 500 million euros per year.
The European public prosecutor’s office plans to deal with some 3,000 cases per year.
Who makes up the European public prosecutor’s office?
It consists of a central level, headquartered in Luxembourg. At its head, Laura Kövesi, surrounded by a college of 22 prosecutors, one per participating state. Of the 27 EU countries, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark are not stakeholders.
They were sworn in in September, and are responsible for overseeing investigations and prosecutions. These activities are carried out on the ground by the deputy prosecutors in the member states.
How do delegated prosecutors work?
So far, 88 deputy prosecutors have been appointed in 20 countries, which is sufficient for the start of the work. In France, there are 4. In Italy, 15. In Germany, there are 11, in five centers in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg and Munich. They can act throughout the country, organize the seizure of property, issue arrest warrants, initiate proceedings.
Why is it necessary?
Countries find it difficult to investigate cross-border offenses. To obtain information from other states, they have to make MLA requests, which sometimes take weeks, when successful. Steps that are no longer necessary with the European public prosecutor’s office. “We can just make a phone call or email our colleague in Slovakia or Italy, explains German Deputy Prosecutor Marcus Paintinger. It is a great added value. “
The body is all the more necessary as the first funds of the gigantic recovery plan of 750 billion euros are about to be paid to member states this summer, representing significant risks of fraud.
The floor “Will monitor very closely the implementation [du plan] NextGenerationEU so as to ensure that all funds will be used to help our economies weather the crisis ”, underlines the European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders.
Can the prosecution start its work despite the absence of the Slovenian and Finnish delegated prosecutors?
Even if it’s okay “Have negative consequences on the efficiency of our work”, the work of the parquet floor will start. Laura Kövesi denounced “The lack of sincere cooperation” from Slovenia, the country which takes over the EU Presidency on 1is July.
The case prompted the resignation of Slovenian justice minister Lilijana Kozlovic last week, in protest against the government’s rejection of conservative prime minister Janez Jansa of two nominations for deputy prosecutors.