25th Sep 2022

New EU anti-fraud prosecutor starts hunt

  • EU chief prosecutor Laura Kovesi was responsible for jailing dozens of high-ranking officials in Romania as chief anti-corruption prosecutor between 2013 and 2018, before being ousted by the then-ruling party (Photo: European Commission)

After two decades of legal and political battles, the EU public prosecutor's office (EPPO), responsible for uncovering and prosecuting fraud against the EU budget, started its operations on Tuesday (1 June).

The Luxembourg-based, independent office is headed by former Romanian anti-corruption chief, Laura Kövesi, who described the start of operations a "historic moment".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We are the first really sharp tool to defend the rule of law in the EU. Our success is a matter of credibility for our union," she told press in Luxembourg.

In a testament to how difficult the creation of the office has been, in the end only 22 countries decided to join EPPO - out of the 27 EU countries.

Denmark, Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Sweden chose not to take part, but the EU Commission said Sweden might join next year.

The EPPO is made up of 15 permanent chambers, with different formations of the 22 European prosecutors, plus Kövesi, who will have an estimated 3,000 cases to work on annually.

At national level, EPPO can call on a network of 140 delegated prosecutors across the 22 member states to investigate cases.

"We are a single office operating under 22 different criminal procedural regimes. This has never been attempted before," Kövesi said.

Kövesi, who had been the face in her country of an anti-corruption push, said that her office already registered a few cases, with the first ones coming from Germany and Italy.

EPPO will be able to investigate cross-border crime more effectively, which has been difficult to prosecute.

Cross-border VAT fraud is estimated to cost the EU between €30bn and €60bn per year, while there were around 1,000 incidents of reported fraudulent irregularities in 2019, with an estimated value of €460m.

The office could also tackle the discrepancies among EU member states with regards to investigating cases.

Kövesi said some EU countries have only five to six cases per year, while others have hundreds.

If the EPPO takes up an investigation, national authorities stand back from the case, reporting any relevant matters to the Luxembourg office. The EPPO will then prosecute cases in the relevant national courts.

It will also be able to investigate persons and companies of the non-participating countries - if those are implicated in a cross-border crime.

Kövesi hopes that her office's work will convince non-participating states to join, although she admitted that at the end of the day, it will be a "political decision". The office had already signed a working agreement with Hungary.

Healthcare, agriculture and public procurement

The office becomes operational just as the rollout of the €800bn Covid-19 recovery fund and the new seven-year budget begins.

"Our target [is] economic and financial criminality. Make no mistake, this is the most common threat to any democratic society," Kövesi said.

"It is clear with the new package there will be a lot of money, more flexibility, this means a higher risk to have more crimes for EPPO," she added.

The unprecedented package, which aims to help EU countries bounce back from the recession caused by the pandemic, will be priority for EPPO, Kövesi said.

"Our expectation is to have some crimes in all the fields, especially in healthcare systems, in agriculture, investment and public procurement," the chief prosecutor warned.

Slovenian holdup

Slovenia, which will take over the EU's presidency next month, caused a stir last month after prime minister Janez Janša cancelled the process of formalising the appointment of the two Slovenian prosecutors, making it difficult for EPPO to investigate cases in his country.

"We haven't been set up to allow anyone to put the Slovenian cases on the shelf," Kövesi said of Slovenia, adding that nevertheless it will be "almost impossible" to tackle all the cases in the country.

Justice commissioner Didier Reynders told reporters in Luxembourg that the commission expected an explanation from Slovenia and how it will ensure a new transparent process for selecting the prosecutors.

When asked about a possible EU probe, Reynders said that if Slovenia does not act soon, the commission will analyse how to "force Slovenia to fulfil its obligations".

Finland has also been dragging its feet in nominating delegated prosecutors, over the issue of pensions and whether the prosecutors can take on other jobs domestically, but an agreement is expected to be reached.

MEPs: Portugal 'risks undermining' trust in EU prosecutor

Portuguese justice minister Francisca Van Dunem, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, argued that the Lisbon government was only following the advice of the country's magistrates when pushing for its candidate.

New EU public prosecutor has four staff for 3,000 cases

Laura Kovesi who heads the new European Public Prosecutor's Office, tasked to tackle fraud linked to VAT, money laundering, and corruption across the EU, warned she is dangerously understaffed and underfunded.

Romania abused rights of EU's top prosecutor, court finds

Romania violated the rights of its former anti-corruption chief Laura Codruta Kovesi when they fired hire. The judgement issued by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg follows a long catalogue of high-level corruption in Romania.


Why the EU now needs a 'Green Prosecutor'

Could the Green Deal, the European Climate Law, the Just Transition Fund tackle illegal deforestation, arsons, water, air and soil pollution, traffic of ozone-depleting substances and protected species, poaching, overfishing etc.? The answer is clearly 'no', we need a prosecutor.


What von der Leyen's 'State of Union' didn't mention

Ursula von der Leyen barely noticed that European democracy is under attack not only from external threats, but from within. Two of the world's leading autocratic countries are EU member states.

News in Brief

  1. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  2. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  3. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  4. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  5. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  6. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up
  7. Finland 'closely monitoring' new Russian mobilisation
  8. Flights out of Moscow sell out after Putin mobilisation order

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads
  2. Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition
  3. Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap
  4. How to apply the Nuremberg model for Russian war crimes
  5. 'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians
  6. Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán
  7. France latest EU member to step up government spending in 2023
  8. Big Tech now edges out Big Energy in EU lobbying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us