The EPPO will become the first international prosecutor’s office in the European Union with the competence to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU financial interests. EU Directive 2017/1371 of 5 July 2017 on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law provides the list of such crimes, which includes, in particular, active and passive bribery.
According to EU Council Regulation 2017/1939 of 12 October 2017 implementing enhanced cooperation on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office the EPPO will be accountable to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission and will operate as one single office with a decentralised structure in all EU participating States. So far 22 countries have demonstrated their commitment to engage in the activities of the EPPO: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Slovenia.
The EPPO will operate in the EU States through European Delegated Prosecutors who will have the same powers to investigate, prosecute and bring cases to judgment as the national prosecutors of these countries. It is envisaged that the Delegated Prosecutors will work in close cooperation with each other, providing mutual assistance and regularly consulting each other on cross-border cases. For instance, if a prosecutor has to intervene in a country which falls outside the area of his/her responsibility, he/she will be able to reallocate the case to the authorized Delegated Prosecutor operating in the respective country.
The activities of the European Delegated Prosecutors will be also coordinated by the central office of the EPPO: to this end, it will consist of Permanent Chambers and European Prosecutors (one for each participating country). Each Permanent Chamber will have three member prosecutors. The Permanent Chambers will be responsible for monitoring and directing the investigations, and taking operational decisions (for example, on bringing a case to judgment), whereas the European Prosecutors will supervise the Delegated Prosecutors on behalf of the Permanent Chambers. The EPPO will be headed by the European Chief Prosecutor, appointed by common accord by the European Parliament and the Council for a non-renewable term of seven years. Laura Kövesi will be the first to take up the post of European Chief Prosecutor.
Under the Directive, the EPPO will be able both to independently launch investigations and to directly work on the cases transferred to it by national law enforcement authorities of the EU member States in the event that those cases fall under the EPPO’s competence. Accordingly, national bodies cannot launch a parallel investigation into the cases whose investigation has already been initiated by the EPPO, although the offenders will be prosecuted by the national courts of respective countries.
The establishment of such international structure is due to the need of the participating countries in effective instruments for fighting transnational financial crimes annually committed in the EU territory. According to a report of the European Court of Auditors, the EU lost over 9 billion EUR (roughly 10.6 billion USD) to fraud and corruption from 2002 through 2017, and in 2018 the authorities of the EU member States reported that the aggregated damage inflicted to their national budgets by fraud-related crimes (excluding VAT fraud) reached a total amount of approximately 1.2 billion EUR (around 1.4 billion USD).
At present, only national bodies of the member States can investigate these cases and subsequently prosecute the offenders. However, when it comes to transnational crimes, prosecutors from each country should spend considerable time on overcoming jurisdictional limitations, for example, on upholding the “blocking laws” that are in place in some countries. However, existing EU bodies, such as Eurojust, Europol and OLAF, which can operate in the territory of any EU member State, do not have necessary powers to conduct criminal investigations and to subsequently initiate prosecution.
The establishment of the EPPO will be the first step in creating a single space in Europe to administer criminal justice, conduct investigations more rapidly and return proceeds of illegal activities.
*OLAF is an EU body intended to conduct investigations into administrative offences regarding fraud, corruption and other illegal activities damaging the financial interests of the European Union and its member States, as well as to develop legislation and policies against fraud and corruption in the EU. The Office is an independent entity working in cooperation with national anti-fraud and anti-corruption bodies of the EU countries. It is envisaged that OLAF will closely cooperate and coordinate its activities with the EPPO.