The European Parliament voted in favour of creating the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) which will have the right to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of offences against the European Union’s budget.
Currently, only national authorities can investigate and prosecute EU budget-related fraud, such as the intentional misuse of EU structural funds or cross-border VAT fraud, but their jurisdiction ends at their national borders.
According to a European Parliament press release, the EPPO will allow for swift information exchange, coordinated police investigations, fast freezing and seizure of assets, as well as arrests of suspects across borders. It will work closely with and complement the EU criminal justice agency Eurojust and the EU anti-fraud investigation office OLAF to ensure more successful prosecutions and better recovery of defrauded taxpayers’ money.
“Thanks to the EPPO, which will unify the work of national prosecutors under one European body, the shortcomings of uncoordinated national investigations into the misuse of EU funds will be addressed,” said Parliament’s rapporteur Barbara Matera (EPP, IT). “Hopefully, the scope of the EPPO’s powers could in the near future also include trans-border crimes, like terrorism and trafficking of human beings.”
Now that MEPs have approved the creation of the EPPO (by 456 votes to 115, with 60 abstentions), the European Council can formally adopt the regulation. The EPPO is expected to be operational between 2020 and 2021.
“The establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office will take our fight against fraud to the next level, addressing cross-border fraud through better coordination across member states,” said European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. “We must protect EU funding by making sure that irregularities are investigated, prosecuted and brought to justice in a systematic and evenly manner across member states. This is what our citizens expect: accountability on tax-payer money.”
The creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) was also backed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group also in the European Parliament. The group’s spokesperson for the new EPPO, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann MEP, said: “For the EU to work effectively it is essential that European taxpayers see their money is spent effectively. Stories of corruption and misuse of EU funds seriously damage the credibility of the EU in the eyes of its citizens”.
“From the beginning, we pushed hard for a genuinely independent prosecution office, which will not be embroiled in the interests of member states,” added S&D’s spokesperson for civil liberties, justice and home affairs, Birgit Sippel MEP. “Although the new office is not perfect, we have seen significant improvements during the negotiations, thanks to the pressure we put on member states. We now need to see the new office up and running and urge all member states that have not yet joined to do so as soon as possible.”
At present, there are 20 member states officially taking part in the EPPO from its start in 2020. The five member states not participating are Poland, Hungary, Sweden, the Netherlands and Malta. Denmark, the UK and Ireland either are excluded or have opt outs under the Treaties and have been not been involved in the EPPO from the beginning.