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Fraud and criminal misapplication of EU money affects all EU citizens. In times of economic crisis and budgetary restriction, it is more important than ever to investigate, prosecute and bring to justice those who commit criminal offences affecting the Union's financial interests. The Commission proposed a regulation on the establishment of a European Prosecutor's office based on Art. 86 TFEU.
What is the EPPO?
The EPPO will be an independent Union body with the authority to investigate and prosecute EU-fraud and other crimes affecting the Union's financial interests. The establishment of the EPPO will bring about substantial change in the way the Union's financial interests are protected. It will combine European and national law-enforcement efforts in a unified, seamless and efficient approach to counter EU-fraud.
Currently, only national authorities can investigate and prosecute EU-fraud. Their competences stop at their national borders. Existing Union-bodies (such as OLAF, Eurojust and Europol) do not have and cannot be given the mandate to conduct criminal investigations.
The EPPO will fill this institutional gap. It will have exclusive and EU-wide jurisdiction to deal with suspicions of criminal behaviour falling within its remit.
The structure of the EPPO
The EPPO will be a body of the Union with a decentralised structure. The decentralised structure aims at involving and integrating the national law enforcement authorities.
The EPPO will be headed by a European Public Prosecutor. Its investigations will in principle be carried out by European Delegated Prosecutors located in each Member State. The number of these Delegated Prosecutors will be left for Member States, but they should have at least one. The European Delegated Prosecutors will be an integral part of the EPPO but also continue to exercise their functions as national prosecutors. When acting for the EPPO, they will be fully independent from the national prosecution bodies.
This structure will lead to synergies between European and national decision making. It will ensure best chances of the EPPO being effective.
The main characteristics of the EPPO
The EPPO will be an efficient Union body pooling investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Member States with clear hierarchical lines to ensure swift decision making. It will have uniform investigation powers throughout the Union based on and integrated into the national law systems of the Member States. There will be strong safeguards to guarantee the rights of the persons involved in the EPPO's investigations as laid down in national law, Union law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Investigation measures that touch mostly on fundamental rights as e.g. telephone interception, will need a prior authorisation by a national Court. The EPPO´s investigations will be subject to judicial review by the national courts. The EPPO will enable Member States and the Union to work hand-in-hand for the protection of European taxpayers' money.
The added value of the EPPO:
- genuine European prosecution policy;
- uniform, consistent and systematic approach while linking in with MS' judicial systems;
- investigates and procecutes all EU fraud cases;
- continuity in complex and cross-border cases;
- stronger deterrence and prevention effect.
The law applying to the EPPO's activities
The EPPO will mainly rely on national rules of investigation and procedure, which will apply if the regulation does not provide for more specific provisions. The regulation introduces European rules where absolutely necessary to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the EPPO's investigations/prosecutions and in order to ensure a high level of procedural safeguards for the suspected persons. In particular:
- the regulation lists the EPPO's investigative powers and provides for general conditions of their application. The Regulation also contains provisions defining homogeneous procedural rights of the suspected person.
- the regulation contains rules on the admissibility evidence. The EPPO Regulation sets out that evidence gathered lawfully in one Member State is admissible in the trial courts of all Member States, provided the admission does not adversely affect the fairness of the procedure or the rights of defence as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The Commission's proposal is the result of a long lasting consultation process. Milestones on the way to the current proposal of the establishment of an EPPO were:
- the 'Corpus Juris' , a set of rules for a future European Public Prosecutor, elaborated and presented by an expert group in 2000;
- the Green Paper on criminal-law protection of the financial interests of the Community, presented by the Commission in 2001;
- the unratified Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, 2004;
- the Lisbon Treaty which offered the legal basis for the establishment of the EPPO in Art. 86 TFEU, December 2009;
- the Commission's communication on the protection of the EU's financial interests by criminal law and by administrative investigations, May 2011.
For more information see press release (press release and memo ), legislative text , the Communication and Staff Working Documents accompanying the proposal for the Regulation (impact assessment and executive summary of the impact assessment ). The proposal on the establishment of the EPPO is accompanied by a proposal to reform the Regulation on Eurojust .