Will the new Chief Prosecutor of  EPPO be A European from Romania or a Romanian in Europe?

Laura Codruta Kovesi has cleared (perhaps) the most difficult hurdle in her appointment as Europe›s first Chief Prosecutor, though tension remains extremely high in Romania. Last Thursday, Kovesi got the approval in COREPER with 17 votes out of 22, paving the way for the long-drawn battle over who will lead the European Public Prosecutor›s Office (EPPO) to be concluded.

To understand how polarised the situation is in the country, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis asked his country›s Ambassador to the EU, Luminița Odobescu, to vote in favour of Kovesi’s nomination, after the Prime Minister, Viorica Dancila, categorically told the press that she Odobescu  would be voting against Kovesi. “I said and I repeat this. We do not support a mandate for Laura Codruța Kovesi,” she told press on Wednesday night.

Though the vote in COREPER was by secret ballot, Kovesi called for Odobescu’s vote to be made public. “From my point of view it is not secret information and should be clarified,” Digi24 quoted her as saying.

As Kassandra wrote in July, this column has been previously very critical of Kovesi’s appointment. Kovesi, it was maintained, cannot be praised for work done in a system corrupt to its roots. It seemed paradoxical that Europe was bashing the Romanian justice system and the government for standing against Kovesi – while Kovesi was very recently part of that very justice system as head of the DNA, the country’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

Kovesi, no doubt, has the capacity to be a good prosecutor. What those appointing her need to be sure of, is that she can forever rise above the national prism of corruption that she – whether we like it or not – thrived in professionally. If Kovesi can shed her Romanian reality, she can certainly help Europe from the position of the European Public Prosecutor.

However, Kovesi does not seem to be doing that, at least this is what her public statements after the COREPER vote suggest. She referred to taking up the post of EPPO Chief Prosecutor as a “continuation” of her activity at the DNA, and suggested she will keep contributing to Romania’s judiciary. “The experience I have gained in Romania will be extremely useful to me in what I have to do, the fact that I will leave the country does not mean that I will not be able to contribute to the judiciary, I will be present whenever I need to” she is quoted in Digi24 as saying in Romanian.

With the situation in Romania in a state of hyperpolarisation, it would indeed be difficult for Kovesi not to defend her history, and honour the political allies who have supported her through this process. But in the followthrough, it will be critical to – much like European Commissioners are supposed to do – leave the Romanian flag at home.

She can choose to be a European Chief Public Prosecutor coming from Romania, or indeed a Romanian that makes sure her tenure is an extension of her tough life in embattled Romania. 

Kovesi is in a rare position; she has the privilege of being able to carry all of the knowledge and experience – lessons from victories and triumphs, and lessons from any mistakes made – and start fresh. As soon as she is confirmed Chief Prosecutor of EPPO (seen as just a formality of process now), her history, friendships, and dependencies can be set aside for a clean start at EPPO. 

That is what European citizens will hope and expect from her. 

A final comment on the politics of appointment. The Chief Prosecutor of EPPO is not a political position. It is a position which should be awarded to the most worthy candidate. Europe needs the best of the best to lead the EPPO. Somehow, the European political parties managed to turn what should have been the most apolitical appointment, into a heavy political clash which has coloured the entire process. Though the Chief European Public Prosecutor should not have to, Kovesi will now also have the burden of proving she has no politics for as long as she has the job.