To Steal or Not to Steal: EU Introduces European Union Public Prosecutor’s Office

One step closer to creation of European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), after Regulation establishing the EPPO was adopted on 12 October 2017 by the 20 member states which are part of the EPPO enhanced cooperation. [1] A bit earlier, on 05.10.2017, European Parliament has given its green light to the setting up of the EPPO, that aims to facilitate the prosecution and investigation of crimes against Union’s budgetary interests.

“Thanks to the EPPO, which will unify the work of national prosecutors under one European body, the shortcomings of uncoordinated national investigations into the misuse of EU funds will be addressed. Hopefully, the scope of the EPPO’s powers could in the near future also include trans-border crimes, like terrorism and trafficking of human beings.” Parliament’s rapporteur Barbara Matera said, following the Parliament has given its consent to the setting up of the EPPO. [2]

All began on 17.07.2013 when the European Commission submitted a proposal [3] establishing the position of the EPPO, which derives from the provisions of the Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. After 4 years of debates pros and cons, on 08.06.2017, twenty EU Member States reached an agreement on the implementation of the EPPO, among them are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Slovenia. Other Member States are free to join the twenty founding members at any time. [4]

According to official website of the European Commission, every year “at least 50 billion euro of revenues from VAT are lost for national budgets of all over Europe through cross-border fraud”. Apart of VAT revenues, in 2015 the Member States reported to the Commission fraudulent irregularities for an amount of “around EUR 638 million”. [5] Institutional capacities of national prosecutors are limited to fight cross-border financial crimes, that is why necessity of establishing the EU Public Prosecutor Office arose. The new EU prosecutor will conduct investigations across Europe having more capacities and tools to strengthen de investigation and prosecution of financial criminal cases affecting the EU budget, such as corruption or fraud with EU funds.

The aim is to establish an independent institution, namely which will not be integrated into another institution or service of the European Union. [6]
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be located in Luxembourg, and will have double-level Office structure: the central level and the national level. [7]
The central level will consist of European Chief Prosecutor, 20 European Prosecutors, one per participating Member State, two of whom as Deputies for the European Chief Prosecutor, as well as technical and investigative staff. The local level will consist of European Delegated Prosecutors who will be located in the participating Member States and will be supervised by the European Chief Prosecutor in order to ensure efficiency of their activity. The interesting thing is that the European Delegated Prosecutors will combine their competence as national prosecutors and competence of EPPO’s prosecutor, covering both jurisdictions national and European. Despite this European Delegated Prosecutors will act independently from the national prosecution authorities.
The European Chief Prosecutor will be appointed by the European Parliament and the Council for a single mandate of seven years and which will not be renewable.
Selection of the candidates for the position of European Chief Prosecutor will be carried out by a panel composed of former members of the Court of Justice, members of national supreme courts, national public prosecution services and/or lawyers of recognized competence.
The European Chief Prosecutor can be dismissed only on the grounds of European Parliament’s, Council’s or the Commission’s application, followed by a decision of the Court of Justice.

The European Public Prosecutor will have the competence to investigate financial crimes against European Union’s budget, such as “frauds involving EU funds over 10 000 euro and cross-border VAT fraud over 10 million euros”. [8] The aim is to establish a functional and operative mechanism which will go around the lengthy judicial cooperation proceedings, and will bring criminal in front of justice at national courts. This idea, bringing criminals to national courts, is mostly considered by some skeptical pretty problematic in the light of the sensitive intersection of EU and national criminal laws.

Following the general consent reached among above mentioned 20 European Member States, the European Parliament has to give its consent. After this, the Regulation establishing the European Public Prosecutor’s Office can be ado pted and the work on setting up the Office can begin.
According to evaluation the whole process will take 2-3 years. This means that the EPPO could become operational between 2020 and 2021. [9]

References:
[1] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/10/12-eppo-20-ms-confirms/
[2] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20171002IPR85127/ep-green-light-for-setting-up-eu-prosecutor-to-fight-fraud-against-eu-funds
[3] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52013PC0534
[4] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1550_en.htm
[5] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1550_en.htm
[6] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1550_en.htm
[7] http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/judicial-cooperation/public-prosecutor/index_en.htm
[8] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1550_en.htm
[9] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20171002IPR85127/ep-green-light-for-setting-up-eu-prosecutor-to-fight-fraud-against-eu-funds

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