Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor

  • Romanians took part in mass demonstrations as the government in recent years tried to roll back the fight on corruption (Photo: Reuters)

The majority of EU countries' ambassadors on Thursday (19 September) voted to support Romania's former anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi to be the EU's first public prosecutor.

Seventeen EU ambassadors from 22 member states participating in the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) voted in favour of Kovesi in the indicating vote.

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  • Romania's former anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi faced opposition from her country's government (Photo: Helga Stevens)

Thursday's vote breaks the deadlock between the council of member states and the European parliament, which has earlier supported Kovesi's appointment.

Parliament and council negotiators are expected to meet next week to formally agree on Kovesi, which will be followed by a confirmation vote at the October plenary of the parliament, and a formal vote among member states.

In an earlier, point-based vote in February, member states chose the French candidate, Jean-Francois Bohnert as their preferred nominee over Kovesi.

The change of heart among member states was partly political, partly practical.

As part of an effort to build alliances in central Europe, France's president Emmanuel Macron over the summer decided to back Kovesi over the French candidate.

Adding to the pressure: the parliament was adamant in its support for Kovesi, who has received praise at home and in EU capitals for her five-year tenure as anti-corruption chief in Romania, securing convictions against ministers, lawmakers and other high-profile politicians.

EU countries also wanted to make sure the EPPO is up an running in 2020, which requires adequate time for internal rules and procedures set up by the new chief prosecutor.

Member states did not want to risk blocking the entire office coming into force, and in principle agreed with the choice of Kovesi, and EU official said.

For the 46-year-old Kovesi, the high-profile EU job comes after the government in Bucharest ousted her in July 2018 as national anti-corruption head.

Bucharest also actively lobbied against her appointment in Brussels, while putting her under investigation at home, which her supporters argued was politically motivated.

Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Romania's Social Democrat party at the time when Kovesi was forced out of office last year was jailed in May for three and a half years in a corruption case.

The Social Democrat-led government also passed a number of controversial measures in recent years decriminalising corruption that have sparked the largest protests in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989 and led to tensions with the EU commission.

"It's a recognition of the work of the Romanian prosecutors and judges, but at the same time, it's also a success for all Romanians who in the last few years supported the fight against corruption and for the rule of law and EU values," Kovesi told AFP.

The new, independent office will have the power to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud, as currently only national authorities can investigate and prosecute fraud against the EU budget.

However, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and the UK have not joined the project

Parliamentarians welcomed the vote.

Centre-right MEP Manfred Weber said in a tweet that "after months of unacceptable attacks against her by the socialist government in Romania, the prosecutor's office should get to work as soon as possible".

Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt also welcomed the vote, saying that she is "not only the best person for the job but also an important signal to the Romanian government: you shouldn't have fired her. These kinds of dubious decisions will backfire".

"Her appointment sends out a clear message in the EU that corruption will not be tolerated regardless of social position or wealth and that applying the rule of law diligently will ultimately be rewarded," Green MEP Saskia Bricmont said in a statement.

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