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European Public Prosecutor's Office: Commission proposal gains momentum

European Commission - MEMO/14/124   20/02/2014

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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 20 February 2014

European Public Prosecutor's Office: Commission proposal gains momentum

Following yesterday's support by France and Germany for a swift agreement on a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) has today backed the Commission’s proposal to establish such an Office (IP/13/709). The endorsement by the LIBE Committee - by 34 votes for, 7 against and 1 abstention – follows a positive vote in the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) on the proposal earlier this week (by 21 for, 4 against, 1 abstention), and in the Legal Affairs Committee last week (MEMO/14/102). The Committee report will now pass to the European Parliament’s plenary session for a vote by all Members of the Parliament. After that, it will pass to Ministers from the Member States in the Council. The Parliament’s recommendations will have to be taken into account by the Council during its negotiations.

"This has been a good week for efforts to protect taxpayers’ money throughout the EU. With public finances under pressure throughout the EU, every euro counts. The European Budget is a federal budget. If we don't protect it from criminals, nobody else will," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner and Algirdas Semeta, Anti-fraud Commissioner. "The idea of the European Public Prosecutor's Office is taking root: the European Parliament is backing it and support in Member States is gaining ground. This will add an extra drive to this project and contribute to the quick advance of the discussions in the Council under the strong lead of the Greek Presidency."

It its vote today, the Civil Liberties Committee confirmed the key elements of the Commission's proposal:

  • The European Public Prosecutor’s Office should have a decentralised structure, integrated into national judicial systems. Delegated European Prosecutors will carry out the investigations and prosecutions in the respective Member State, using national staff and applying national law. Their actions will be coordinated by the European Public Prosecutor to ensure a uniform approach throughout the EU, which is vital particularly in cross-border cases.

  • National courts will be entrusted with the judicial review, meaning questions on the European Public Prosecutors' acts could be challenged before them. At the same time, the proposal ensures union-wide robust and sound procedural rights of suspects who will be faced with investigations by the European Public Prosecutor's Office.

  • The proposal guarantees stronger protection of procedural rights for individuals concerned by European Public Prosecutor's Office investigations than currently exists under national systems. This includes for example the right to interpretation and translation, the right to information and access to case materials or the right of access to a lawyer in case of detention.

Next steps: The European Parliament will now vote on the Commission’s proposal in plenary session. This vote is expected in March 2014. To become law, the proposal needs to be unanimously adopted by Member States in the Council, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. If unanimity cannot be reached in the Council, the Treaties foresee that a group of at least nine Member States may enter into an enhanced cooperation (Article 86 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union [TFEU]).

Background

Today, action and conviction rates for fraud offences against EU resources greatly vary across the EU: EU-wide only 45.7% of cases transferred to Member States are followed up by national judicial authorities and the conviction rate of these is on average only 42.3% (see IP/13/709). This means that many criminals who steal taxpayers' money are getting away with their crimes.

The European Public Prosecutor's Office will make sure that every case involving suspected fraud against the EU budget is followed up and completed, so that criminals know they will be prosecuted and brought to justice. This will have a strong deterrent effect.

The setting up of the European Public Prosecutor's Office is called for by the Lisbon Treaty (Article 86 TFEU). Under the EU Treaties, Denmark will not participate in the European Public Prosecutor's Office. The United Kingdom and Ireland decided not to opt-in under the Treaties and therefore will not participate either.


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