Thirteen states join EU prosecutor's office
Over a dozen EU states have confirmed they will take part in the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), which is still yet to be launched.
The office allows an EU prosecutor to launch cross-border criminal investigations and prosecute people in areas dealing with EU money and major VAT fraud.
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The issue has eluded member states for years, over broader issues relating to national sovereignty.
But on Tuesday (28 March), some 13 justice ministers, following a meeting in Brussels, formally declared their intention to take part.
"We have the signatures of 13 ministers, so we can progress further towards enhanced cooperation," EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova told reporters. She said another three will sign over the next few days, bringing the total to 16 EU member states.
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Spain will be taking part.
Italy is also keen to join but wants a more powerful prosecutor that could also probe other areas like organised crime.
"It would be such a wrong signal if Italy was not one of the founding fathers," noted one EU official.
Sweden earlier this year opposed the EPPO, along with others, such as Poland, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, voicing objections.
The move is highly symbolic for an EU that is debating the possibility of a so-called multi-speed Europe, where some countries can forge ahead with deeper integration.
The plan now is to tweak the text behind the legislation to accommodate the outstanding demands of those who are joining and to figure out the costs.
Once the reworked text is agreed, it will need to be adopted with the consent of the European Parliament. Some are hoping for a launch date in 2019.
Up to 25 EU member states can join, taking into account that Denmark, Ireland, and the UK have special statuses in the area of justice and home affairs in EU law.
Olaf, the EU's anti-fraud office, would continue to operate once the EPPO has been launched.
Olaf can only conduct administrative investigations. This means that it can only refer investigations to national prosecutors. But only around 50 percent of Olaf's cases are followed up by member states.
The new European public prosecutor, once launched, would also aim to close that gap.