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European Parliament committee backs Commission proposal for a European Public Prosecutor's Office
The Commission's proposal for the establishment a European Public Prosecutor's Office (IP/13/709) made further progress today as the European Parliament's legal affairs Committee (JURI) has adopted its Opinion on the proposal (19 votes for, 4 against and 0 abstentions). It fully backs the objective of the Commission to improve Union-wide prosecution of criminals who defraud EU taxpayers' money. The exclusive task of the European Public Prosecutor's Office will be to investigate and prosecute and, where relevant, bring to judgement – in the Member States' courts – crimes affecting the EU budget.
"A Union budget deserves Union-wide protection. We cannot remain idle when criminals try to defraud on taxpayers' money," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "A true European Public Prosecutor's Office can help us effectively clamp down on fraudsters everywhere in the EU. I am encouraged to see that the European Parliament agrees. It will continue working closely with the European Parliament and with national Ministers to makes sure this important project gathers further pace in the coming months. We must keep up the momentum so that the European Public Prosecutor's Office can assume its functions in 2015.”
Algirdas Semeta, Anti-fraud Commissioner, said: "Today's vote is further endorsement of our work to better protect taxpayers' money throughout the EU. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will bridge the gap between Member States' criminal systems, whose competences stop at national borders, and Union bodies that cannot conduct criminal investigations. As such, our success in fighting and deterring EU fraud will increase greatly."
It its vote today, the Legal Affairs Committee confirmed the cornerstones of the Commission's proposal:
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office should have a decentralised structure, integrated into national judicial systems. Delegated European Prosecutors will carry out the investigations and prosecutions in the respective Member State, using national staff and applying national law. Their actions will be coordinated by the European Public Prosecutor to ensure a uniform approach throughout the EU, which is vital particularly in cross-border cases.
National courts will be entrusted with the judicial review, meaning questions on the European Public Prosecutors' acts could be challenged before them. At the same time, the proposal ensures union-wide robust and sound procedural rights of suspects who will be faced with investigations by the European Public Prosecutor's Office.
The proposal guarantees stronger protection of procedural rights for individuals concerned by European Public Prosecutor's Office investigations than currently exists under national systems. This includes for example the right to interpretation and translation, the right to information and access to case materials or the right of access to a lawyer in case of detention.
Next steps: In order to become law, the Commission's proposal needs to be unanimously adopted by Member States in the Council, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. The LIBE Committee of the European Parliament will vote on an interim report on the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor's Office in March 2014. If unanimity cannot be reached in the Council, the Treaties foresee that a group of at least nine Member States may enter into an enhanced cooperation (Article 86 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union TFEU).
Today, action and conviction rates for fraud offences against EU resources greatly vary across the EU: EU-wide only 45.7% of cases transferred to Member States are followed up by national judicial authorities and the conviction rate of these is on average only 42.3% (see IP/13/709). This means that many criminals who steal taxpayers' money are getting away with their crimes.
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.
The setting up of the European Public Prosecutor's Office is called for by the Lisbon Treaty (Article 86 TFEU). Under the EU Treaties, Denmark will not participate in the European Public Prosecutor's Office. The United Kingdom and Ireland decided not to opt-in under the Treaties and therefore will not participate either.
For more information
European Commission – Criminal law policy:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice:
Homepage of Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice