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European Public Prosecutor's Office: Commission proposal gains momentum

European Commission - MEMO/14/154   04/03/2014

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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 4 March 2014

European Public Prosecutor's Office: Commission proposal gains momentum

Ministers in the Justice Council held an orientation debate on the European Commission's proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutor's office (IP/13/709). For the first time, they discussed some of the key issues of the proposal, such as the organisation of the European Public Prosecutor's Office, the division of tasks and the procedural guarantees contained in the proposals.

Today's debate follows the support from France and Germany calling for a swift agreement on a European Public Prosecutor’s Office and votes in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) (IP/14/124), the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) and in the Legal Affairs Committee (MEMO/14/102) to back the Commission proposal.

"This has been a good month for efforts to protect taxpayers’ money throughout the EU. With public finances under pressure throughout the EU, every euro counts. A common European Budget needs common rules to protect it - If we don't safeguard it from criminals, nobody else will," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner and Algirdas Šemeta, Anti-fraud Commissioner. "The idea of the European Public Prosecutor's Office is taking root: the European Parliament is backing it and, under the stewardship of the Greek EU Presidency, 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 lead of the Greek Presidency."

Next steps: The European Parliament will vote an interim report 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]).

The key elements of the Commission's proposal Ministers discussed today include:

  • The exclusive task of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgement – in the member states’ courts - crimes affecting the EU budget.

  • 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 and certain acts of investigation will require prior judicial authorisation.

  • 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. - stronger rights than currently exist under national systems. This includes for example the right to interpretation and translation, the right to information and access to case materials, the right of access to a lawyer in case of detention, the right to legal aid and the right to collect evidence.

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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