France and Germany team up to push through EU public prosecutor’s office

Germany's Minister for Justice Heiko Maas is pushing for enhanced cooperation on the European public prosecutor's office. [SPD Saar/Flickr]

France and Germany have proposed an enhanced cooperation procedure to overcome the reluctance of some EU member states and push through plans for a European public prosecutor’s office. EURACTIV France reports.

Disagreement between EU member states can sometimes be a driver of progress. At least, this may turn out to be true for the European public prosecutor’s office, which has been stalled in the EU’s pipeline since 2013 for want of unanimity in the Council.

Making the case for a European Public Prosecutor's Office

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has the chance to set up a pan-European prosecutor’s office. Progress has been slowed by national governments blocking the proposal. Now, a number of prosecutors in favour of the idea call on the member states to move forward with the plan.

EU justice ministers met in Brussels on Thursday (8 December) to discuss, in vain, the creation of this pan-European institution.

The European public prosecutor’s office was conceived as a response to violations of the EU’s financial interests. A prosecutor with cross-border competences could more effectively tackle crimes like VAT fraud and money laundering.

Unanimity

But the subject is sensitive. Despite a large majority in favour of the creation of a European public prosecutor’s office, certain countries have blocked progress for fear of losing control of their own judiciaries. And every one of the EU’s 28 member states holds a veto.

With no end in sight to this blockage, France’s Minister of Justice Jean-Jacques Urvoas and his German counterpart Heiko Maas decided to propose an enhanced cooperation deal for those countries that are in favour of this “super prosecutor”.

French ex-minister backs calls for European public prosecutor

After the European Parliament adopted the EU Commission’s proposal to put in place a European public prosecutor (11 February), former French Justice Minister Robert Badinter gave his support for the idea at a hearing in the French parliament.

In a joint declaration, the ministers called for negotiations on the creation of the institution “based on Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU”. In other words, based on enhanced cooperation.

This mechanism allows EU countries to bypass the requirement for unanimity. A group of at least nine member states may request a draft regulation. If this draft fails to achieve a consensus in the Council, the states concerned are free to establish enhanced cooperation among themselves, based on this draft regulation.

“The debates in the Council today confirmed the strong support of the member states to take advantage of the momentum and assemble as many countries as possible behind this plan for a European public prosecutor’s office,” said a source in the European executive.

Background

The creation of a European prosecutor's office became a possiblility thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force on 1 December 2009. Article 86 of the Treaty concerns the functioning of the European Union.

The Lisbon Treaty stipulates that the European prosecutor's office can be established by a unanimous Council decision and after approval by the European Parliament. Its role would be to tackle crimes that damage the EU's financial interests.

The Council could extend the prosecutor's powers to cover cross-border crime.