MEPs back EU-wide public prosecutor's office

13.03.14 @ 09:38

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - EU lawmakers are a step closer to setting up an EU-wide public prosecutor after MEPs in Strasbourg backed the European Commission's proposal.

  • The EU's existing anti-fraud office is keen to expand EU competence to 'transnational' crimes (Photo: European Commission)

Deputies on Wednesday (12 March) endorsed granting powers to a new office that would probe cases of fraud against the EU budget across the bloc.

"I hope that as many member states as possible participate in the European Public Prosecutor's Office to defend the EU's financial interests", said the parliament’s lead negotiator on the file, Italian centre-right MEP Salvatore Iacolino.

Conservative estimates suggest some €500 million are stolen every year from the EU coffers.

The commission says national prosecutors in some member states are not doing enough to protect the EU budget. It points out that national judicial authorities follow up less than half of all cases transferred to them.

There is resistance to the idea, however.

Last year, 14 parliaments in 11 member states attempted to repeal the proposal in a so-called yellow card procedure.

The new body would have powers to search premises, seize objects, and intercept phone conversations.

Some speculate that these powers could eventually be expanded to other areas.

“If this EPPO [European Public Prosecutor Office] starts working well, [it] will possibly, probably expand to other competences, to the others crimes, which are by nature transnational,” Giovanni Kessler, head of the EU anti-fraud office Olaf, told reporters in Brussels last November.

British conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope, who voted against the proposal, says the EU-wide prosecutor is a path towards a continent-wide criminal justice system.

But the Strasbourg assembly has said that the EPPO can only investigate non-EU-budget cases if they “simultaneously constitute” an EU budget crime.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have in any case opted out of the project. Denmark will also not join.

The EPPO proposal is now set to go to member states, where it requires a unanimous decision.

But if the commission does not get unanimity, it still plans to go ahead under the “enhanced co-operation” procedure, which says just nine EU countries can launch new EU initiatives and expand them to other countries later down the line.