Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were among 20 EU member states to decide at a meeting of the EU Justice Affairs Council on Thursday to establish the new European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) under enhanced cooperation.
Once established, the independent EU public prosecutor will be equipped with the power to investigate and prosecute criminal cases affecting the EU budget, such as corruption or fraud with EU funds and cross-border VAT fraud. It will be a strong, independent and efficient body specialized in fighting financial crime across the EU, the European Commission Representation in Estonia said.
The EPPO will be able to efficiently investigate crimes against the EU budget and VAT fraud, such as fraud involving EU funds over €10,000 and cross-border VAT fraud over €10 million. It will be able to act quickly across borders without the need for lengthy judicial cooperation proceedings and will bring actions against criminals directly before national courts; this should lead to more successful prosecutions and a better recovery of defrauded money.
"We have zero tolerance for fraud against the EU budget," said European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources Günther H. Oettinger. "Every cent of it needs to be spent for the benefit of EU citizens. With a strong, independent and efficient European Public Prosecutor we are strengthening our efforts in protecting taxpayers' money by ensuring a European approach to the criminal investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses affecting the union budget. This will be a substantial addition to the current means at the union level, namely the work of [the European Anti-Fraud Office] in the area of administrative investigations."
The EPPO will operate as a single office across all participating member states. It will be a highly specialized and independent office, set up outside of existing EU institutions and services. The EPPO will act in the interest of the EU and will not seek or take instructions from EU institutions or national authorities.
It will be organized with a central office at EU level and a decentralized level consisting of European Delegated Prosecutors located in the member states, who will also continue their function as national prosecutors, dubbed "double hat." The central level will supervise investigations and prosecutions carried out at national level in order to ensure effective coordination and a uniform approach throughout the EU. In this way, it will bring in a wide range of expertise and experience about national legal systems while maintaining independence. If the office takes up an investigation, national authorities will not exercise their competences for the same criminal activity.
Following the general approach reached in the council on Thursday involving Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Slovenia, the European Parliament will have to give its consent before the regulation can finally be adopted. Other member states may join the 20 founding members at any time after the adoption of the regulation.
Editor: Aili Vahtla