Although the Lisbon Treaty, which was adopted in 2007 and came into force in 2009, envisaged the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) only with the 2017 regulation the conditions for its formal establishment have been met. The treaty itself points out that the main EPPO task is to safeguard the financial interests of the Union and to fight all criminal offenses in this context.
Once fully operational the European Public Prosecutor’s Office will have significant competencies to protect the EU’s financial interests and conduct investigations about the Union taxpayers’ money spending. The main reason for establishing this office is the fact that the existing EU bodies do not have the power to prosecute in the member states. The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), for example, has competence to carry out investigations, but it only has possibility to recommend to the member states to take further steps, which is why over half of such recommendations are rejected. At the same time, researches indicate a number of abuses in the use of EU funds.
EPPO represents the highest level of integration that one supranational organization can achieve. However, it re-launches polemics and concerns over violating MS sovereignty, while on the other hand, those advocating for deeper integration believe that only strengthened mechanisms at supra-national level can overcome problems in the functioning of the European Union. Hence the multi-speed Europe concept is again dominant where 22 MS support and participate in enhanced cooperation, while others are out of cooperation in this area. Also, the very procedure of the European Public Prosecutor election is not without controversy, as there are serious objections by the member states, specifically by the Romanian government, concerning Laura Codruța Kövesi who is shortlisted for this post. EPPO should be fully functional by the end of 2020.
Although the establishment of the EPPO is significant and positive, problems will arise in practice, especially in the case of the jurisdiction dilemmas in individual cases. EPPO has to, from the very beginning, be a role model for transparency and accountability. Also, the Union itself should go through additional (significant) reforms in order to improve functioning and reduce the democratic deficit. Taking into account past efforts in this direction, this initiative should be characterized as progress for the time being, but insufficient in the long run.
The comment was published in the daily Danas, February 28, 2019.