We urgently need a European Public Prosecutor’s Office

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Fraud [Georgi Gotev]

Fraud [Georgi Gotev]

Every year, several hundreds of millions of euros from the EU budget are at risk due to fraud, corruption and other criminal offences. These crimes undermine the rule of law, write Georgieva, Jourová, and Macovei.

Kristalina Georgieva is Vice-President of the European Commission, and Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources. V?ra Jourová is Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. MEP Monica Macovei (EPP) is Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee.

The EU budget serves many purposes: addressing youth unemployment, enhancing broadband or supporting scientific research. The vast majority is spent correctly. Yet, when EU funds end up in the pockets of criminals, citizens and businesses lose out, as they cannot benefit from those EU initiatives. This is why law enforcement in all member states must act as one when fighting fraud, to ensure a quick and full recovery.

Currently, the European Union cannot prosecute criminal activity against its budget. Criminal investigations and prosecutions remain entirely in national hands, and the efforts of national authorities to fight financial crime against the EU budget vary considerably from one member state to another. Differences in national rules, cross-border cases and the collection of evidence abroad all add to the complexity of investigations across the EU. There are also many practical obstacles, with law enforcement authorities often lacking expertise or resources for cross-border investigations.

The dimension of the problem is European. We therefore need a European answer, too: a European Public Prosecutor’s Office with a clear mission and powers to investigate across the EU and prosecute offences against the EU budget, which is citizens’ money. Fully respecting the Charter of Fundamental Rights in its investigations, the Prosecutor – and the accompanying Office – will work hand in hand with national law enforcement authorities, and bring cases before the competent courts – while fully respecting national legal systems. Member states law enforcement authorities will not be replaced, but supported in their anti-fraud investigations.

The benefits are clear: coherent EU-wide investigations and prosecutions, and the pooling of expertise and resources. Today, mutual assistance procedures are lengthy and sometimes cumbersome. The Prosecutor’s Office will exchange information and evidence switftly.

Yesterday, the European Parliament backed, with an overwhelming majority, the European Commission´s initiative for a European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Negotiations with the national governments are ongoing.

What we want and need is a European Public Prosecutor’s Office that brings real added value. To effectively fight crime against the EU budget, the Office needs clearly defined supervision powers—and must be fully independent. It must be able to carry out investigations free from political interference. It needs to be efficient, with a lean and smart structure. And finally, it must meet the high EU standards on procedural rights for suspects in criminal proceedings.

We are confident that member states agree with these objectives, which protect citizens’ money, and increase people’s trust in the EU. So we call on national governments to speed up negotiations, without reducing the initiative to the lowest common denominator. We want EU funding to be used for the purpose it was originally intended. We want a European Public Prosecutor who can effectively protect tax payers’ money from fraud.

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