The creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) seems designed to marginalise the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, to the point that it disappears. Indeed, only one of the two of OLAF’s main investigative tasks, (1) fraud involving community funds, VAT, and excise tax; and (2) fraud committed by EU servants, will remain under the agency’s jurisdiction. The second, which is not much.
Very few civil servants are investigated as they have managed to set rules to circumvent the law. Indeed, in this line of activity, the majority of OLAF’s clientele are Members of the European Parliament who, however, still inexplicitly enjoy parliamentary immunity, meaning most investigations can never be completed.
Disappearance, however, is a big word. Yes, there will be many voices, especially from the European Parliament, claiming that OLAF has no reason to exist after the creation of the EPPO.
The appointment of a chief prosecutor for Europe is, however, an exercise navigating through rough waters as the outgoing Parliament is trapped in insisting to give the job to the Romania’s ex-anti-corruption chief, Laura Codruţa Kövesi, but the Council, the supreme decision-making body in the bloc, is in favour of handing the job to France’s Jean-François Bohnert.
Kövesi, who enjoys strong support from the Parliament, some claim because of personal friendly relations with certain powerful MEPs, is facing criminal charges in her own country.
The Parliament is strongly supporting Kövesi, claiming that she is honest and highly qualified. The first question for the Parliament is, therefore, why is it insisting on the appointment of a prosecutor with a brilliant career record in a corrupt justice system?
The second question for the Parliament is once it admits – by ignoring the outstanding charges against Kövesi – that the Romanian justice system is corrupt, why hasn’t Romania been suspended from participating in the Justice and Home Affairs Council, as yet? Is it expecting the end of the Romanian presidency and will, somehow act, after June 30? In any case, Kövesi – an offspring of Romanian justice – should be excluded from the EPPO process.
Regarding OLAF, when organisations are, for any reason, under the threat of being abolished, they often display an incredible amount of inertia and eventually survive. The number of obstacles that a strong branch of any administration faced when it is deemed obsolete is usually so vast that, in the end, the organisation survives and re-emerges even stronger as. in order to survive assumes additional responsibilities.
This was the case in point for France’s Conseil d’Etat, now one of the most powerful institutions of the Fifth French Republic. The Conseil d’Etat, several times risked being abolished but always survived, and each time emerged stronger. In 1872, while it was set to be abolished as it had supported with its advices the dictator, Emperor Napoleon III. Because of the intrinsic inertia all big organizations enjoy, it survived and from an advisory body of the Emperor assumed responsibilities becoming the Supreme of the country, thus issuing advises for the Emperor but binding Decisions “on the name of the French People.”
OLAF has built a strong reputation in Member States. It is considered tough, very strict, and uncorrupted. Those few who are under OLAF’s microscope hate it, but ordinary citizens – the overwhelming majority in the EU – see in OLAF a hope for real justice. It may be a perception, and whether we like it or not, perceptions are realities.
This is a good – very good – reason for OLAF to survive and this claim does not come from the passarela of the Berlaymont, but from a journalist who, for decades, made OLAF his favourite subject for criticism.
However, to justify the continuation of OLAF, there must be serious reasons, and here they are.
Recently, we conducted a telephone survey inviting citizens from 11 Member States in South Europe on what they consider the most serious problems in their country. The first two reasons were austerity and corruption, in that order. Immigration was third.
Aside for austerity, which the political establishment will pay very dearly for in the European elections in May, corruption was the focus.
When the Member States speak of corruption, they certainly do not have in mind people waiting for the bus. References are made to the administration officials and political personnel who receive bribes, which usually go unpunished. And no matter what happens, they solemnly continue to take part in the sport of getting kickbacks.
This is a great opportunity to give to OLAF the authority to investigate corruption crimes by administrative and political personnel in the Member States.
First, citizens will sense for the first time that the European Union is actively and efficiently fighting corruption. Second, OLAF will victoriously survive. It will prove useful and will become citizen-friendly. A modern Robin Hood in…institutional uniform.
As a matter of fact, in addition to the DG Budget, which cares about the EPPO recovering money for its needs, nobody else cares. To see corrupt politicians and civil servants, who are immune in their countries, behind bars and see their assets confiscated – everybody on ‘main street’ would love it.
As to how to do it, is may be impossible or simple. Impossible if it takes the bureaucratic path and is assigned to the Presidency, which is, by the way, held by Romania.
It may prove simple if the matter is decided on purely political grounds. All politicians and administrators in all of the Member States are directly or indirectly related to EU funding. Through a political decision by the Council, OLAF can be assigned to investigate corruption in the Member States and refer those dossiers to the EPPO to pursue prosecution or shelve the case.
This will be great service to our society and will be one of the ways to get citizens, who are jumping out of the Europe Express windows in rapidly growing numbers, back on the bandwagon of European integration.
Simple is beautiful. Whoever cannot see it is either politically blind or a Eurocrat. But they all will certainly sense it in numbers after the European election of May, if it is not postponed.