Multi-speed Europe: Lithuania, 12 other nations agree to set up EU prosecutor's office
Lithuania and another 12 EU member states have agreed to establish the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) to combat financial crimes.
The establishment of the new body has been supported by Europe's two most influential countries, France and Germany, as well as justice ministers from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. They have written a joint letter to the heads of EU institutions.
"The compromise proposal for the European Public Prosecutor's Office, which was achieved after lengthy discussions, is broadly in line with Lithuania's position, but, unfortunately, there is no unanimous decision. Lithuania is among those countries that favor stronger cooperation in the establishment of this body and participation in its activities," Lithuanian Justice Minister Milda Vainiutė said in a press release on Wednesday.
The Eurosceptic governments of Poland and Hungary, as well as Sweden, have rejected the initiative, saying that the EPPO may undermine the independence of national law enforcement authorities and transfer too much power to the EU. Latvia and Estonia are staying on the sidelines, at least for now, but diplomats say that they may join in later.
The EPPO would be responsible for investigating crimes affecting the EU's financial interests, such as VAT fraud or money laundering.
Talks on setting up the office started during Lithuania's presidency of the EU back in 2013. Diplomats say that the initial proposal was to create a centralized authority, but eventually it was agreed to give more powers to national prosecutors.
Prosecutor Tomas Krušna of the Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office told BNS that the country could delegate two prosecutors to the new body: one would work in the central office and the other in Lithuania.
According to Krušna, only national prosecutors would prosecute cases in Lithuania courts.
"Lithuania's prosecutor will be the person who will prosecute on behalf of the state. What we are talking about is that the new body would ensure consistent prosecution practices at EU level as regards the protection of the EU's financial interests. There will a particular specialization among prosecutors in a single body and accumulated human potential in this category of cases," he told BNS.
No final decision on where the EPPO will be based has been made yet, but Luxembourg is being considered as an option. The new body could begin its activities in a couple of year's time.
The establishment of the European Public Prosecutor's Office among a group of EU member states would reflect the concept of a multi-speed Europe that is supported by major European powers.