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Commissioner responsible for Taxation and Customs Union, Statistics, Audit and Anti-fraud
Statement on European Public Prosecutor's Office
Press Conference /Brussels, 17 July 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With the European Public Prosecutor's Office, we will have a body whose sole purpose and only priority is to protect the EU budget from criminal activity.
As a result, the estimated 2 500 cases it will handle every year should have much more successful outcomes than we see today.
That means better protection of EU taxpayers' money and greater deterrents for fraudsters.
The EPPO will have the exclusive competence to tackle crimes against EU funds at every step of the process: from the moment fraud is suspected, until a judicial decision has been taken.
This will avoid any overlaps or duplication of work with national and Union bodies, and ensure clear separation of tasks and responsibilities.
The uniform investigative measures that the European Public Prosecutor's Office can deploy throughout the EU are clearly set out in today's proposal.
They correspond to the measures that national prosecutors can already take today in most Member States when it comes to serious crimes.
These include, for example, searching property and computer systems, freezing assets, and questioning suspects.
Setting out these measures in the future Regulation will ensure that the European Public Prosecutor's Office will have the same toolbox at its disposal, no matter where its investigations lead.
Evidence which is lawfully obtained in one Member State will be admissible in all Member States, thereby overcoming a key problem we have had in the past with cross-border cases.
Important conditions for the use of these powers, such as prior judicial authorisation, are also unambiguously spelt out.
The European Public Prosecutor's Office will be entirely independent. As you will appreciate, this is crucial for impartial and professional investigations and prosecutions.
However, 'independent' does not mean 'unaccountable'.
The EPPO will be answerable for its investigative actions in national courts. And it will have to report to EU institutions on its general activities, priorities and results.
As such, there will be a high level of legal and democratic oversight, without any interference in the EPPO's core tasks.
So how will the European Public Prosecutors Office work in practice?
As Viviane has mentioned, a fundamental feature of the proposed EPPO is its decentralised structure.
It will consist of a European Public Prosecutor, supported by four Deputies and located in "head office", and European Delegated Prosecutors, based in each of the Member States.
These Delegated Prosecutors will be in charge of directing investigations and prosecutions on the ground, and bringing cases before the national courts.
The fact that the delegated prosecutors will come from, and remain a part of, their own national justice systems is a major advantage.
It means that they will work within a system which is highly familiar to them.
It means they will be able to give instructions to national law enforcers, without cultural misunderstandings or communication problems.
And it means that all other parties to the case – including law enforcers, courts and defence lawyers – will also be working within a legal system that they know and understand.
Meanwhile, the European Public Prosecutor will be responsible for initiating, directing and coordinating the EU anti-fraud cases around Europe, and all activities related to this work.
The decentralised structure also offers the advantage that the EPPO can be set up at very little cost.
I have outlined how we will deploy the qualified national staff to work at Member State level.
And at central level, we will draw on the already existing resources of OLAF and Eurojust, with their wealth of experience.
Eurojust's administration will support the EPPO in areas such as human resources, finance and I.T.
The reform of this body – which the Commission has also presented today – will better equip it to do that.
Meanwhile the staff of the EPPO will come mostly from OLAF.
This will be possible as OLAF itself can be pared down in size, as much of its investigative activity is taken over by the Public Prosecutor.
Although OLAF will no longer carry out investigations on criminal cases, it will nonetheless remain an important player in EU anti-fraud activity.
For example, it will still investigate irregularities in EU funds, and non-financial crimes committed by EU staff.
With this in mind, today we also set out ways to further improve OLAF, building on the robust reform of this body which has recently been agreed.
The focus is on strengthening OLAF's governance and reinforcing procedural guarantees in its investigations, also taking into account what is foreseen for the EPPO.
Our main ideas revolve around:
I look forward to discussing these ideas with the European Parliament and Council, before bringing forward proposals in the near future.
Returning now to the EPPO.
What we are essentially proposing is the best of both worlds.
The highly experienced resources of the Member States will be combined with the direction of a Union body, built from already functioning structures.
A well-defined legal framework will be coupled with clear hierarchical lines, to ensure swifter decisions and greater efficiency.
In short, the EPPO is about Member States and the Union working seamlessly hand-in-hand against fraud.
The fusion of power and professionals from both sides will be a mighty force for fraudsters to contend with.
The EU budget will undoubtedly be safer with the new European Public Prosecutor's Office - and a better functioning anti-fraud office - as its watchdogs.