The EU’s lawmakers have begun to finalise this assessment of the three shortlisted candidates for the position of the EU’s first chief prosecutor, the person that will lead the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).
Laura Codruta Kovesi, the Romanian nominee under fire for misdeeds in Romania during her tenure at the National anti Corruption Directorate (DNA), went from being the selection committee’s first pick, to the European Council’s distant second at the ambassadors’ vote at the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union (COREPER) last week.
Kovesi found herself one vote ahead of European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT). One more committee, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), is set to vote on the morning of February 27.
The CONT vote took place immediately after the three finalists’ hearing in Brussels. Jean-François Bohnert of France, the COREPER’s favourite, by far, fell just one vote behind Kovesi at this advisory vote. If the LIBE committee vote is also close, the Parliament will not have much weight in swaying the Council which showed a clear preference.
Coming in third was Andrés Ritter, a German candidate, with just one single vote. The Germans had previously thrown their support behind Kovesi despite running a candidate.
Last week’s Council vote placed the French-born Bohnert first, with 50 points, followed by Kovesi and Germany’s Ritter at an equal 29 points for joint second place.
All three candidates tried to convince CONT and the LIBE parliamentarians in Brussels that they are the best pick to be the first EU chief prosecutor. The public hearing lasted 75 minutes for each of the three candidates, in a process that the MEPs questions lead. The Chief Prosecutor will be appointed by common accord by the European Parliament and the EU Council through a complex procedure.
Kovesi tried to push back allegations made by the S&D and ALDE, underlining that she always respected the law. “I know you’ve been exposed to negative information about me. I have nothing to hide, I’m at your disposal for questions,” said the Romanian candidate. Kovesi currently has 18 files open against her in Romania on serious charges.
Trying to prove the accusations as untrue, Kovesi brought forth figures showing the change in DNA’s seizing activity, claiming that her actions led to the increase of €300 million in assets. According to Kovesi, the EPPO needs to protect the EU’s financial interests and recover damages.
“We need to define objectives with the College of Commissioners, share information, have cooperation agreements with non-participating and third countries,” she added.
Concerning the cooperation between OLAF and Eurojust, Kovesi underlined the importance of building bridges and striking agreements between the institutions and financial investigation units. Cross-border inquiries with Eurojust and close cooperation with the EPPO, as foreseen in the Regulation I the solution, according to Kovesi. As regards to non-participating member states, “it will be the responsibility of the Chief Prosecutor to conclude cooperation agreements. If it gets credible results, the citizens of the non-member states will understand that it is in their best interests”.
Bohnert has a long history of experience as a European magistrate and national prosecutor. His 20 years in the operational cooperation of magistrates and his contribution at the creation of Eurojust, along with his ability to speak seven foreign languages, are among his many assets on his CV.
According to what he demonstrated during Tuesday’s hearing, Bohnert had worked on cases of corruption, fraud, organised crime, reaching the position of the General Prosecutor. “Our motto will be independence, respect for human rights”, but the new establishment of the EPPO needs credibility. “It has to convince the 22 states to cooperate, but also the other seven non-participating states to support,” Bohnert added. “We need to be effective and unworthy of corruption,” underlined.
“The EPPO will have to prove its ability to fight fraud against EU interests. It is a situation that the head of the Prosecutor’s Office must discuss”, he said.  I think the line of conduct for the Chief Prosecutor must be what the regulation, the legal framework says, and show that using the EPPO’s legal texts is an independent institution.
For his part, Ritter demonstrated to the MEPs why a single office is needed in the EU to fight fraud and corruption, as these phenomena also “weaken the credibility of the EU in the eyes of taxpayers”.
Having a chief prosecutor at an EU level will also solve the problems faced at the national level, including the lack of resources when it comes to investigations of criminal activity. Ritter also mentioned that the accountability of the EPPO in the European Parliament would not be “a restriction of its independence”.
The next decisive vote is expected to take place on Wednesday morning, between the MEPs of the LIBE Committee. The recommendation, along with a letter of the CONT Committee, will then go to Antonio Tajani, European Parliament president, and from there to the European Parliament’s steering group, composed by Tajani and the heads of the Chamber’s political groups.
The Parliament’s deliberations should be expected to take place on March 7.