Protecting taxpayers’ money against fraud: Commission proposes European Public Prosecutor's Office and reinforces OLAF procedural guarantees
Today, the European Commission is taking action to improve Union-wide prosecution of criminals who defraud EU taxpayers by establishing a European Public Prosecutor's Office. Its exclusive task will be to investigate and prosecute and, where relevant, bring to judgement – in the Member States' courts - crimes affecting the EU budget. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will be an independent institution, subject to democratic oversight.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, said: "As promised in my 2012 address on the State of the Union, the Commission has today proposed to set up a European Public Prosecutor's Office. This initiative confirms the Commission commitment to upholding the rule of law; it will decisively enhance the protection of taxpayers' money and the effective tackling of fraud involving EU funds. The Commission has also delivered on its commitments to reinforce and strengthening OLAF procedures applied to procedural guarantees, in line with the guarantees that the European Public Prosecutor Office will apply."
“With today's proposal the European Commission is delivering on its promise to apply a zero tolerance policy towards fraud against the EU budget. When it comes to taxpayers' money, every euro counts – even more so in today's economic climate," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "Criminals who exploit legal loopholes to pocket taxpayers' money should not go free because we do not have the right tools to bring them to justice. Let's be clear: If we, the EU, don't protect our federal budget, nobody will do it for us. I call on Member States and the European Parliament to rally behind this important project so that the European Public Prosecutor's Office can assume its functions as of 1 January 2015.”
"The European Public Prosecutor's Office will ensure that protecting the EU budget is given proper priority throughout Europe. It will bridge the gap between Member States' criminal systems, whose competences stop at national borders, and Union bodies that cannot conduct criminal investigations," said Algirdas Šemeta, the EU's anti-fraud Commissioner. "Meanwhile, OLAF will continue to do important anti-fraud work in areas not covered by the new Office. The ideas we have presented today to further improve its governance, combined with the recent reform, will make OLAF more efficient and more accountable in this work. As such, our success in fighting and deterring EU fraud will increase greatly."
The logic of the European Public Prosecutor's Office proposal is simple: If you have a "federal budget" – with money coming from all EU Member States and administered under common rules – then you also need "federal instruments" to protect this budget effectively across the Union. Currently, there is a very uneven level of protection and enforcement across the EU when it comes to tackling EU fraud. The rate of successful prosecutions concerning offences against the EU budget varies considerably from one Member State to another, with an EU average of just 42.3% (see annex). Many cases are not prosecuted at all, allowing fraudsters to get away with exploiting legal loopholes and pocketing citizens' money. Even when cases are prosecuted, there is a large disparity across Member States in terms of conviction rates for offences against the EU budget.
The European Public Prosecutor's Office will make sure that every case involving suspected fraud against the EU budget is followed up and completed, so that criminals know they will be prosecuted and brought to justice. This will have a strong deterrent effect.
Under the EU Treaties, Denmark will not participate in the European Public Prosecutor's Office. The United Kingdom and Ireland will not participate either unless they voluntarily and explicitly decide to do so (opt in).
In parallel to the creation of the European Public Prosecutor's Office, the Commission is proposing a reform of the European Union’s Agency for criminal justice cooperation (Eurojust) and presenting a Communication on the governance of the EU Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
For more information http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-693_en.htm