Former Romanian anti-corruption official Laura Codruta Koevesi was sworn in on September 28 at the European Court of Justice as the EU’s first anti-fraud prosecutor. Koevesi ran Romania's anti-corruption agency until she was dismissed in 2018 by the then-leftist government for alleged abuse of power. Koevesi will now serve a seven-year mandate at the helm of the new European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO).
Here's a look at what the EPPO is, why it's needed, and how Koevesi became its leader.
What is the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO)?
The EPPO is an independent body set up by the European Union to investigate, prosecute, and bring to judgment crimes involving the bloc's budget. These crimes can include fraud, corruption, and cross-border VAT fraud above 10 million euros. Previously, only national prosecutors in the 27 EU member states could do this, but they lacked jurisdiction beyond their borders. Other institutions, such as Europol or the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF, had no legal ability to act.
With the EU budget for the period 2021-27 expected to be a record high 1.8 trillion euros, in a bid to kick-start the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to see why Brussels is keen to get the EPPO going, especially with national authorities in the bloc reporting that fraud against the budget in 2018 alone amounted to over 1 billion euros.
Who is participating?
Twenty-two out of the 27 EU member states.
Denmark and Ireland both have a treaty right to opt in or out of elements of justice and home affairs cooperation and have both decided on the latter, even though they will cooperate with the EPPO and can join at a later stage. Sweden was long skeptical of the need for a fraud-fighting prosecutor on a European level, but late last year Stockholm signaled that it was open to join and that its parliament would discuss it.
Hungary and Poland, which for years have fought with Brussels over the erosion of the rule of law in the two countries, have also declined to participate. The EPPO can investigate offenses committed in the five countries not participating, but it must happen in cooperation with national authorities. If the EPPO, for example, requests a suspect’s arrest, this must be confirmed by the relevant national authority.
So how is it set up?
The EPPO has a single office in Luxembourg headed by a European chief prosecutor working with one European prosecutor from each participating EU member state. These European-delegated national prosecutors carry out investigations and prosecutions in their respective country, using national staff and applying national law. So suspects are prosecuted in the relevant national courts; no specific EU court has been set up for the EPPO. The role of the European chief prosecutor is to supervise the work in each participating country.
Who is the new European chief prosecutor?
Laura Codruta Koevesi of Romania, the former chief prosecutor of Bucharest's National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). She has a seven-year mandate.
She was controversially dismissed from the DNA in 2018 by Romania’s then-leftist government for alleged abuse of power, but critics say her dismissal was prompted by her prosecuting and indicting a record number of ministers, politicians, and other officials on corruption charges.
Koevesi officially got the job last autumn after a drawn-out procedure in which EU member states and the European Parliament finally opted for her instead of the French candidate, Jean-Francois Bohnert, despite intense opposition against her candidacy from the Romanian government.
With the positions of president of the European Council, European Commission, and European Parliament, as well as the EU's foreign policy chief, all going to people from Western or Southern Europe, Koevesi is the only person from an Eastern member state in a high-ranking EU position.
So when will the EPPO start working?
Later this year.
So far, Koevesi has been busy setting up the team, who were all inaugurated on September 28. According to her own estimates, the EPPO will start operations with a backlog of approximately 3,000 cases dating back to 2017, when the regulation establishing the EPPO was voted through. She hopes that the new body will handle approximately 2,000 new cases every year.