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18 January 2013

Towards the European Public Prosecutor’s Office

ERA conference discussed institutional and practical challenges of establishing the EPPO.

Every year up to € 280 million of EU funds are misused. Currently, the EU lacks the institutional means to protect the EU against the criminal misuse of its money. To address obstacles to effective cooperation among national prosecution agencies in tackling crimes damaging the financial interest of the EU, the Commission intends to launch a proposal for a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) which is expected in June 2013. A conference organised by ERA in Trier on 17-18 January 2013 discussed the institutional and practical challenges of establishing an EPPO.

The establishment of an EPPO based on Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union would help to fight fraud in a more effective way by building on the existing structures of Eurojust and OLAF. Given the different existing scenarios on the institutional structure of the EPPO, Carlos Zeyen, Vice-President of Eurojust, argued that, “at a minimum, the EPPO and Eurojust should share their seat” with one administration supporting the work of both institutions. “Especially in times of austerity, cost-efficiency is important to take into account and duplications of infrastructure would be a waste of money and effort”, he said.

Françoise Le Bail, Director General of Justice at the European Commission, explained that the Commission envisages “an integrated and yet decentralised system”. This means that the EPPO would be a European office, embedded operationally in the Member States, she said.

Commenting on the possible structure of the EPPO, Jorge Espina, Deputy Prosecutor in the International Cooperation Unit at the Office of the General Prosecutor of Spain, argued that the most feasible option would be to have a central non-collegial structure with one Chief European Prosecutor assisted by several Deputy Prosecutors and delegates in the Member States. He also highlighted the importance of flexibility for the EPPO to take over investigations from national authorities and to transfer cases to national prosecution bodies.

Speakers at the conference agreed on the importance of the EPPO’s independence, both from Member States and EU institutions. According to Le Bail this independence would underpin the European Public Prosecutor's credibility and legitimacy. In addition, “EPPO’s political accountability must be guaranteed and the European Parliament and the Council must have a say on the EPPO's overall performance”, she argued.

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