New EU office would investigate crimes involving EU money and prosecute suspects in national courts.
Every year, at least €500m of EU spending and revenue is lost through suspected fraud. The European Commission is proposing to close the loopholes allowing some criminals to get away with pocketing taxpayers’ money illegally by setting up a new European public prosecutor’s office.
An independent institution, the new prosecutor’s office would bridge the gap between EU countries’ criminal systems – whose powers stop at national borders – and EU bodies unable to conduct criminal investigations.
The office will be integrated into national judicial systems, with European prosecutors carrying out investigations and prosecutions within EU countries. They will work with teams of national staff and apply national law. A single European public prosecutor will ensure that individual prosecutors take the same approach in all countries.
As the entire structure will use existing resources, any extra costs will be very low.
National courts will be responsible for judicial review, meaning that the European Office’s rulings could be challenged before them.
Those accused of defrauding the EU budget will also enjoy more legal rights, including the right to interpretation and translation, to access case materials and a lawyer. The Commission is also proposing that certain rights already in place in some countries be extended: the right to remain silent and be presumed innocent, access to legal aid, to present evidence and hear witnesses.
The EU already has an anti-fraud office. Once the prosecutor’s office is up and running, the anti-fraud office will no longer conduct administrative investigations into fraud or other crimes affecting the EU’s financial interests, but will continue to investigate other irregularities, including serious misconduct by EU staff with no financial impact.
The proposals will now be discussed by MEPs and national governments. Due to previous agreements, Denmark will not be involved in the prosecutor’s office, while the UK and Ireland must explicitly opt in if they wish to take part. If not all countries are willing to sign up to the new office, a group of at least 9 countries may create it alone.