The European Parliament is requesting all documentation concerning the nominations for the European Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) of the candidates from Belgium, Bulgaria and Portugal, where national ministers overruled the selection committee picks. In case of refusal, the Parliament will take the EU’s Council of Ministers to court, EURACTIV was told.
Last September, the College of EPPO was sworn before the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. The EPPO is the first independent European prosecution service, in charge of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice offences affecting the EU’s financial interests.
However, the selection of the 22 national prosecutors, representing those EU countries that joined the initiative, did not pass without incident.
Member states were invited to propose three candidates and an independent selection committee then chose the winner to represent the country in the EPPO College.
But in the case of Belgium, Bulgaria and Portugal, the selection committee’s decisions were overruled by the member states in the Council of Ministers, which ultimately selected candidates from the list who were not the first choice.
This was denounced by a group of academics from several member states, who deplored the undermining of the role of the independent selection committee and said the Council must provide the reasons for choosing different candidates.
The scandal grew deeper in Portugal, where leaks revealed that the country’s justice minister had “pumped up” the CV of José Guerra, who got the appointment at the expense of the candidate considered as the winner by the selection committee, Ana Carla Almeida. The justice minister denied any wrongdoing, but a subordinate resigned over the matter.
According to the Portuguese press, following the leaks, Almeida has lodged an appeal.
‘If you have nothing to hide, show the documents’
Paulo Rangel (EPP, Portugal), a member of the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE), told EURACTIV that if the Council has nothing to hide, it should make public the documents showing how it took the decision to appoint candidates different from those selected by the independent committee.
He explained that ministers could not decide to overrule the committee picks unless the respective member country provided information which convinced EU ministers to decide otherwise.
“The prime minister cannot just say I want this candidate appointed because he’s a friend”, Rangel said.
“If we go to court, we can oblige them to publish the documents,” Rangel said, adding that the showdown would be on Thursday (4 February), when a LIBE meeting will take place in the presence of the Portuguese Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem, representing the presidency of the Council of the EU.
“We are expecting that the Council would give us the documents tomorrow, or say ‘we are going to give you the documents in 10 days’. If they do that, very well. If they don’t do that, we will proceed to court so that we obtain access to the documents,” Rangel said.
Asked if his interest may be political, as the Portuguese government is socialist and his own party is in opposition, Rangel said all major groups, S&D, Renew Europe, the Greens and GUE, had asked for the documents.
“It’s not an EPP issue and it’s not a Portuguese issue”, Rangel said.
The European Commissioner for Justice, Belgium’s Didier Reynders, told Portuguese news agency Lusa that it is up to the Council of the EU to validate the Portuguese magistrate’s appointment to the EPPO, noting that if that decision is challenged, the European Court of Justice will have the final say.
“It will be for the Council to say something and validate, or not, the decision taken. It seems that discussions are in the direction of such validation, but this is a matter for the Council and the General Secretariat of the Council to consider. It will be up to the European Court of Justice to decide”, the Belgian Commissioner said.
The Belgian candidate who got the Council blessing is Yves Van Den Berge, who was the deputy chief of staff to Justice Minister Koen Geens, responsible for coordinating criminal law.
The two other candidates were the director of the Central Office for Seizure and Confiscation, Jean-Michel Verelst, and the Advocate General at the Brussels Court of Appeal, Patrick Carolus. The selection committee ranked them as 1) Verelst; 2) Carolus; 3) Van Den Berge.
The Bulgarian candidate approved by EU ministers is Teodora Georgieva, a judge from the Sofia Administrative Court. The other two candidates were prosecutors from the Sofia Prosecutor’s Office, Desislava Pironeva and Svetlana Shopova.
Alberto Allemanno, EU law Professor at HEC Paris, commented that as part of the EPPO, EU prosecutors will have significant powers in regard to the investigations to be conducted in their countries of origin, in other words, they “cannot owe their appointment to their national governments”.
He added that while the Council is not legally bound by the ranking made by the independent panel, the Council must, at least, provide the reasons for when it opts for a different candidate.
“The independent panel provided reasons for its ranking. The Council cannot change this ranking without any explanation. In the absence of these reasons, a shadow is cast over the selection made by the Council, diminishing the trust of European citizens in the independence of the prosecutors”, Alemanno said.
MEPs threaten to sue over European Prosecutors' appointments https://t.co/uJvIlfphoA In latest development, I saw a letter by the Portuguese Presidency promising publication of all relevant documents in the next days
— Georgi Gotev & EURACTIV.bg (@GeorgiGotev) February 5, 2021
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Benjamin Fox]