Leaders of the European Parliament have endorsed former Romanian anti-corruption chief Laura Codruta Koevesi as their top choice to be the first-ever EU chief prosecutor.
The parliament's Conference of Presidents on March 7 approved a prior decision of two parliamentary committees to put Koevesi at the top of their shortlist.
The conference then assigned three European lawmakers to negotiate with the Council of the EU, which comprises representatives of all 28 EU member states, on choosing either Koevesi or French prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert, who is the council's choice, for the European prosecutor job.
The European Union decided in November 2017 to set up the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) to tackle graft, VAT fraud, and other crimes involving the bloc's multibillion-euro joint budget. The EPPO is expected to begin operating next year or in 2021.
The need for such a trans-EU body has become necessary to tackle the activities of organized criminals who make multibillion-euro profits from circumventing national and EU rules.
According to official figures from across the bloc, the EU budget was defrauded of 638 million euros ($718 million) in 2015 alone.
Romania's government, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, has actively lobbied against Koevesi, who served as the country's chief anti-corruption prosecutor until she was fired last year.
Also on March 7, Koevesi was summoned by a controversial Romanian investigative agency for a second hearing in less than a month on charges of abuse of office, bribery, and false testimony.
At the end of the hearing, Koevesi told the media that she was held incommunicado for five hours before a "group of nine or 10 lawyers" came to officially inform her that she had been indicted in a second case.
"I am accused of running an organized crime group inside the National Anti-Corruption Directorate," she told reporters after the hearing.
"I am categorically telling you, I am not guilty of any of the accusations leveled against me. All this campaign is categorically tied to my candidacy.... I was subpoenaed exactly on the day when the [European Parliament] vote was being decided."
Critics have said that Koevesi was subpoenaed in order to smear her record and diminish her chances of getting the Brussels position.
Koevesi headed the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) for five years until last year, when she was dismissed by the leftist government.
Many observers saw her dismissal as an attempt to sideline her after the DNA's conviction rates for high-level graft jumped across the political spectrum during her tenure in one of the bloc's most corrupt countries, drawing EU praise.
Critics say her dismissal was also meant to prevent the DNA from convicting more senior members of the governing alliance, including the leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party.
Liviu Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower house of parliament, has been convicted of abuse of power with the help of the DNA and has a second pending sentence for corruption.
Koevesi's efficiency as chief anti-graft prosecutor in one of the bloc's most corrupt countries has attracted not only praise from the EU, but also a lot of interest from Brussels, whose European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) established in 1999 has had only limited scope.
Unlike OLAF, which is empowered to conduct only administrative investigations and has no judicial power to compel member states to act on its follow-up recommendations, the EPPO will be responsible for cross-border criminal investigations.
While acting in the interests of the bloc, the EPPO will be fully independent, taking no orders from the EU or national authorities. It will operate as a single office across the 22 participating countries, outside the EU institutions.
OLAF will keep looking into irregularities and fraud affecting the EU's financial interests at an administrative level, while consulting and coordinating closely with the EPPO.
Six EU member states have not joined the EPPO: Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Sweden, Britain, and Denmark. With the exception of Denmark, which has an opt-out from the bloc's Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, the other five states may join at any time.