Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová is continuing with her ambitious plans to set up a European Public Prosecutor Office by 2019. But the member states still have doubts about handing over control to a centralised EU agency. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The Czech Commissioner had a busy schedule during a trip to Germany, meeting with the country’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière and Justice Minister Heiko Maas, as well as a speech in front of the Bundestag.
The topics ranged from the Privacy Shield to the fight against illegal hate speech and Germany’s anti-discrimination measures.
Setting up a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which would be tasked with tackling corruption, using money from the EU budget, dominated Jourová’s agenda though. The Commissioner wants the initiative up and running as soon as possible.
“If all goes to plan, then the EU justice ministers have until December to approve the concept,” Jourová announced yesterday (27 September) in Berlin. Criminal activities that affect the EU budget, such as cross-border VAT fraud, are a pan-European problem that cannot be tackled solely by national authorities.
“Our estimate of €50 billion in losses per year through VAT fraud is a conservative one, the actual number is much higher,” warned the Czech Commissioner. Overall, the EU loses out on about €160 billion a year because of fraud and corruption. “We need an effective response to these negative effects on the EU budget and national budgets.”
Since 2002, investigations into serious crimes of this nature have been centralised by Eurojust, but it, like Europol, is unable to carry out its own overt or covert inquiries. This competence remains with the national authorities of the member states.
Although the EU’s anti-corruption authority OLAF can identify offenders, it cannot impose penalties. Jourová warned that this means serious cross-border and international crimes often go unpunished.
But the member states still have their reservations about the creation of the EPPO, especially when it comes to financial crimes and a perceived loss of sovereignty. Critics have pointed out that any European prosecutor would have to be subject to sufficient democratic, parliamentary and judicial control. Common standards on defendant rights would also have to be agreed upon.
Jourová will seek to allay the EPPO detractors’ concerns in October at a meeting with EU finance ministers, where she will “explain what we are calling for and what we are offering”. The proposal will go before the European Council and European Parliament next year and, if approved, it is hoped the EPPO could be up and running by 2019.