Kovesi insists EPPO budget to be significantly increased

EU's Chief Prosecutor objects to the idea of hiring part-time European delegated prosecutors

Laura Kovesi

If we start work this year, the EPPO budget for 2020 needs to be reopened, significantly increased and the budget for 2021 adjusted accordingly, stressed the newly appointed EU Chief Prosecutor, Laura Kovesi.

During the EP LIBE Committee meeting on Thursday, she presented the state of play on setting up the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO). MEPs from the Budgetary Control Committee also joined the debate.

The EPPO, a Luxembourg-based independent office for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice crimes against the EU budget - fraud, corruption or cross-border VAT fraud above €10m - is expected to be up and running at the end of 2020.

Until now, 22 EU countries are members of EPPO through implementing an enhanced cooperation scheme.

Laura Kovesi told lawmakers that the decision on the budget is not just a technical exercise, and they will not decide only on the budgetary question but also and more importantly - on the fundamental principles under which the EPPO will operate.

In her words, the two main parameters to define are the number of European delegated prosecutors who will be working in the participating Member States and the number of EPPO staff in the central office.

It is clear that the preliminary estimate makes obsolete the legislative financial framework under which the EPPO regulation has been adopted, the EU Chief Prosecutor asserted.

She labelled as outdated the initial assumption that EPPO would start operations with the existing resources it has and will reach cruising speed in 2023, at which point it will be able to handle just under 1,000 investigations.

Kovesi also emphasised that EPPO cannot operate as a regular agency starting from scratch and gradually increasing its level of activity. In the first year of operation, EPPO must be able to open at least 2,000 new cases.

As of the first day of its activity, EPPO must be able to handle a backlog of cases falling in its scope of competence.

My very conservative estimate is that the European delegated prosecutors will have to see through at least 3,000 cases to decide which of them to take and which of them to send back to national prosecution services, within the strict deadline set by the regulation, Kovesi explained.

“We have to make sure that EPPO can further develop in order to bring true added value in line with the aim in which it has been created. But we cannot achieve all this with 22 and a quarter European delegated prosecutors, 22 European prosecutors and 29 EPPO staff in the central office, as it is currently planned.”

The EU Chief Prosecutor strongly opposes the suggestions of some Member States about staffing part-time European delegated prosecutors. Same ideas she has heard “most surprisingly” also from the Commission services.

“I have been a prosecutor for many years, but I'm not aware of the existence anywhere in the world of a quarter of a prosecutor. How should a part-time European delegated prosecutor even work in practice?”

If we want to demonstrate the added value of the EPPO from day one, if we want a truly independent EPPO, we have to start with full-time European delegated prosecutors only. Moreover, we need at least two per Member State, which is perfectly in line with the regulation, Kovesi warned.

At the debate, parliamentarians commended the Chief Prosecutor for her commitment and expressed readiness to revise the EPPO budget and even to secure a separate section for the institution in the common budget. They also called “ridiculous” the intentions to appoint part-time prosecutors.

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