The European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be an independent and decentralised prosecution office of the European Union, with the competence to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud. The Regulation establishing the European Public Prosecutor’s Office under enhanced cooperation was adopted on 12 October 2017 and entered into force on 20 November 2017. At this stage, there are 22 participating EU countries.
Pfoto: The European Chief Prosecutor, Laura Köves
Currently, only national authorities can investigate and prosecute fraud against the EU budget. But their powers stop at national borders. Existing EU-bodies such as Eurojust, Europol and the EU’s anti-fraud office (OLAF) lack the necessary powers to carry out criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Structure and characteristics
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office is currently being set up, with the aim of becoming operational at the end of 2020. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office will have its seat in Luxembourg.
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office will operate as a single office across all participating EU countries and will combine European and national law enforcement efforts in a unified, seamless and efficient approach. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be built on two levels: the central and the national level. The central level will consist of the European Chief Prosecutor, its two Deputies, 22 European Prosecutors (one per participating EU country), two of whom as Deputies for the European Chief Prosecutor and the Administrative Director. The decentralised level will consist of European Delegated Prosecutors who will be located in the participating EU countries. The central level will supervise the investigations and prosecutions carried out at the national level. As a rule, it will be the European Delegated Prosecutors who will carry out the investigation and prosecution in their EU country.
The rights of the suspects and accused persons will be guaranteed by comprehensive procedural safeguards based on existing EU and national law. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office will ensure that its activities respect the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, including the right to fair trial and the right to defence. The procedural acts of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be subject to judicial review by the national courts. The European Court of Justice – by way of preliminary rulings – has residual powers to ensure a consistent application of EU law.
As of 6 July 2019, Member States need to have Directive (EU) 2017/1371 on the fight against fraud to the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law transposed into their national laws (‘PIF Directive’). The new rules will increase the level of protection of the EU budget by harmonising the definitions, sanctions and limitation periods of criminal offences affecting the Union’s financial interests. Not only is the Directive an essential instrument for the harmonisation of the criminal law of the Member States in the area of crimes against the Union budget but it also lays the foundation for the future European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which will investigate, prosecute and enforce the offences in practice.