In a first move to choose the head of a future European public prosecutor's office for financial crimes, ambassadors of 22 EU states have held a secret ballot that was reportedly won by French candidate Jean-Francois Bohnert, followed by former Romanian anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Koevesi, and Germany's Andres Ritter.
The ballots cast by the 22 countries that chose to join the upcoming anticorruption structure was secret, but according to diplomats speaking to Politico.eu under the condition of anonymity, Bohnert got 50 points, while Koevesi and Ritter got 29 points each.
The vote was an "indicative" one, according to the diplomats, and marked the beginning of a complicated process of selection. The candidates were chosen based on an initial February 14 recommendation by a selection panel, which placed Koevesi as the front-runner due to “outstanding achievements both as a leader and as a manager” of Romania's National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA).
Koevesi was dismissed by the government last year in what critics say was a move to prevent the DNA from convicting senior members of the governing alliance.
Koevesi has been widely praised by the EU for her results in fighting graft in one of the bloc's most corrupt countries.
The February 20 vote could be followed by other "indicative" votes before negotiations will start in several EU committees ahead of a final vote in the European Parliament.
The move came amid an escalating dispute between the European Union and Romania, with the bloc asking Bucharest for clarification after the government imposed measures that critics say will exert more political control over the judiciary.
Romania, which currently holds the EU's rotating six-month presidency, needs to "very urgently put the reform process back on track" and abstain "from steps which reverse progress" in fighting corruption, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on February 20.
The bloc was "following with great concern the latest developments concerning the rule of law in Romania," Schinas added.