21st Oct 2016

Brussels eyes single European public prosecutor

  • Franco Frattini - "I am convinced that Europe will have its general prosecutor in the future" (Photo: © European Community, 2005)

EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini is set to pave the way to a single European prosecutor who would have powers to initiate and proceed with the investigation of serious cross-border crimes.

"I am convinced that Europe will have its general prosecutor in the future", Mr Frattini told EUobserver.

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His words come just two months prior to his plan to table a two-step strategy aimed at strengthening Eurojust, the bloc's judicial body and seen as the key-stone for a single European prosecution office.

At first, "normal flows of information" handed over from EU capitals to the Hague-based legal body are needed, EU commissioner said.

He went on to indicate that the commission is only waiting for the bloc's new set of rules to go into place. Known as the Reform Treaty, member states are currently fine-tuning it, and hope to have it in place by mid 2009.

"Once the treaty is adopted and enters into force, we will start talking about Eurojust having the power and the responsibility of initiating an investigation, not only of coordinating [it]", he added.

The network of 27 national prosecutors and judges currently serves as a helping hand to member states when dealing with serious cross-border crime such as trafficking in arms, drugs and human beings, counterfeiting and child pornography.

However, the team is highly dependent on the list of responsibilities granted by EU capitals to their representatives to Eurojust – something that varies widely at the moment.

According to Mr Frattini, a single European prosecutor "could prove useful" in areas "where important European interests are at stake", namely in dealing with financial crime, fraud and counterfeiting at European level.

The argument is, however, likely to fall on deaf ears in some EU capitals, as any such move would also require harmonizing definitions of crimes or introducing a European criminal code.

"I perfectly understand we will never have an European criminal code", Mr Frattini said in response to these concerns, but he added, "we do need harmonization of some definitions for example what constitutes a terrorist activity or trafficking of children".

Easier decision-making

Mr Frattini has set his hopes on a new EU treaty, which – if finalised and rubberstamped by the entire 27-nation bloc – will scrap national governments' exclusive control over sensitive matters of justice and home affairs in favour of the so-called qualified majority voting system.

"I will try to make full use [of the treaty], even though [it] comes into force in the mid-2009", Mr Frattini said, referring to the fact that the bloc will in the meantime be hammering out its new policy priorities in the area of justice and home affairs.

The current five-year roadmap, known as the Hague programme, will expire at the end of 2009.

"I will pave the way for the post-Hague strategy to get a much more effective decision-making process", the commissioner said, with an eye on the most recent clash over an EU-wide set of minimum rights for criminal suspects which was vetoed by six malcontents.

The message is particularly tailored to London and Dublin. Both have secured wide-ranging exemptions from the area in the proposed new Reform Treaty. These exemptions translate into the possibility to cherry-pick areas where they want to join the rest of the club, while playing by their own rules in others.

"I hope the UK and Ireland will de facto opt-in in many if not all areas covered under the regime", Mr Frattini said.

He pointed to London's recent move to join the Prüm Treaty, a data-sharing agreement that would allow EU states to give one another automatic access to genetic records, fingerprints and traffic offences.

According to Mr Frattini, this is "a good example that it is de facto possible to overcome principle statements".

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