By Regulation (EU) 2017/1939 of 12.10.2017, the European Council established a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EUStA) for enhanced, binding and closer cooperation in criminal prosecution against the EU budget.
20 of the 28 EU Member States are participating in enhanced cooperation by joining the EUStA. Denmark, Ireland, Malta and the Netherlands are no more participating than Poland, Sweden, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
Billions in tax evasion unpunished
Attempts have already been made in the past to establish cooperation between public prosecutors at European level. In 1999 Eurojust was developed for enhanced cooperation in the field of law enforcement in the EU. Eurojust began its work in 2002, but without its own indictment, so that Eurojust has always been dependent on the national prosecution offices, which alone have the indictment monopoly at national level. As time has changed, the EU has faced more complex cases, such as fraud involving EU structural funds, cross-border VAT fraud on a large scale.
Sometimes there was a lack of an EU-level public prosecutor’s office and at national level there was often a lack of resources to act successfully across borders as quickly as possible.
For the EU budget, these shortcomings have meant great losses in the past, as Member States’ national budgets are estimated to lose at least EUR 50 billion in VAT revenue each year. But it is precisely these VAT resources that safeguard the European budget.
European Public Prosecutor from 2020
On 17 July 2013, the Commission presented a proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office with its own powers to combat crime in order to investigate, prosecute and punish crimes that would harm or significantly affect the EU’s financial interests.
The European Public Prosecutor should make up for shortcomings in international and national law enforcement and improve the fight against crimes against the EU’s financial interests in order to protect the EU budget more effectively. It will complement the work of Eurojust and OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office) and will be based in Luxembourg. The EUStA is expected to be built at the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.
Structure of the European Public Prosecutor
Of great importance is the independence of the EUStA, an EU agency under democratic control and accountable to the European Parliament, the Council and national parliaments, but it is pursuing and investigating independently of other European institutions to ensure effective law enforcement.
Its structure is divided into two levels, the central and the decentralized level. It consists of a European Public Prosecutor General (central level), who will have overall responsibility for the EU Agency and ensure its supervision, management and supervision. The decentralised level consists of deputy European public prosecutors who will take over the investigative and criminal prosecution activities but who will continue to act at national level as national public prosecutors (so-called dual function).
Authorization is based on indispensable provisions that are to apply throughout Europe. However, national law will apply to the performance of the tasks of delegated prosecutors. Procedural rights are guaranteed by the principle of the rule of law of the EU and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Powers and responsibilities of the EUStA
The EUStA will have the power to prosecute fraud against the EU and other crimes detrimental to the EU’s financial interests and such crimes that are inextricably linked to those crimes. The prosecution of offences concerning participation in a criminal organisation, where the focus of the offences committed is to the detriment of the EU’s financial interests, also falls within the competence of the EUStA.
The total damage caused by the offence committed must amount to at least EUR 10 million for the EUStA to intervene.
The EUStA will be able to bring charges directly before the national courts and will fully assume the tasks of the national public prosecutor’s office in the proceedings.
No jurisdiction exists in connection with national offences relating to national taxes and such offences which are inseparably linked to them. The reason for this is that the national tax administrations of the Member States should not be affected.
These powers and responsibilities are intended to send a signal for improved cooperation between Member States in the field of criminal prosecution in the financial field, so that cross-border fraud can be prevented in the future and national and EU budgets can be secured.