Europe is stepping up its efforts to tackle corruption with The European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) being given new powers to investigate, prosecute, and bring judgment for crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud.
Laura Codruta Kövesi was appointed as the first European Public Prosecutor and spoke to Euronews' Global Conversation about plans to safeguard European funds from criminals and how corruption exists in all countries, not just those in the EU.
On safeguarding European funds
"If we are talking about the new budget proposal, we need to take into account a couple of simple rules. More money, more flexibility, less rules. This could mean that there is a greater risk to have more fraud offences committed in relation to these funds. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will be part of the solution, but not the only solution. There are several institutions in the European Union that must participate in this common effort to prevent and fight against fraud with financial funds," she told Euronews' Sándor Zsíros.
On corruption and links to political leaders
"If we are talking about corruption, it exists in almost all countries, and not only in the European Union countries. However, if we talk about the scale of corruption in different states, it really depends on the level of involvement of local authorities. Having said that, we cannot confirm that these countries are very corrupt or that others are free from corruption."
On the obstacles setting up the EPPO
"The lack of financial and budgetary resources. This would be the first obstacle. Another obstacle would be any delay and I would like to give you a tangible example. The European prosecutors should have been designated at the end of last year, but, as of today, they are still not appointed. We cannot have a college without the European prosecutors, and without a college, we cannot define the rules of procedure and the regulatory framework in which the EPPO will function. This procedure has been delayed because Malta did not propose enough eligible candidates*. As a result, since December, the whole process has been delayed and I hope that the European prosecutors will be appointed as soon as possible."
_*Article update 13.07.2020 - It has been agreed that Malta will now appoint two rather than three European Delegate Prosecutors to join the European Public Prosecutor's Office through an open call for applications. During a meeting with Edward Zammit Lewis, the Maltese Minister for Justice, Equality and Governance, Laura Kovesi said she was happy with the effective manner in which all actors, including the European Commission and German Presidency of the Council had overcome the deadlock. _
On the type of cases the EPPO would take over
"It is very difficult to discuss hypothetical cases because we must apply the competence that the EPPO has through regulation. The investigation priorities will be established by the College that will comprise of 22 prosecutors from each Member State and the European Chief Prosecutor. It is very important to process all the cases within our competence, irrespective of the person who commits these offences or the place where the latter have been committed. After all, our role as prosecutors is to ensure that justice is equally applied to everybody."
On Poland and Hungary refusing to join the EPPO
It is not only Hungary and Poland. There is also Sweden, Denmark and Ireland. It is difficult for me to comment on the reasons why these Member States did not join that EPPO, because, after all, it is a political decision and I cannot comment on that. We will investigate certain offences committed in relation to these Member States, its citizens, or on the territory of these Member States. In addition, we will cooperate with the authorities of these states and will apply the judicial cooperation tools that are currently available.
On cracking down on white-collar criminals
What does the EPPO bring us when we talk about the investigation of these cases? Well, it will drastically reduce the limitations that prosecutors have at their national level and the exchange of information will be faster and more efficient. In addition, we will improve the procedure of damage recovery inflicted through violation. The evidence produced by prosecutors in one Member State could be used in another Member State. So, all these advantages will allow the EPPO to become an institution that will change fundamentally the way these financial fraud and organised crime offences have been investigated so far.
On corruption in Romania since leaving the NAD
"I left the NAD (National Anticorruption Directorate) two years ago and it is difficult to comment on what is happening there. However, we need to take into account the fact that during the last three years, the Romanian Justice has been constantly under attack. Many prosecutors and judges have been harassed in many ways. Many disciplinary actions have been initiated and criminal cases have been opened against prosecutors and judges. As a consequence, the independence of justice has been constantly affected through attacks and legislative changes."
On representing foreign interests claims
"I have always thought that these attacks, that were directed not only against me, but also against all the prosecutors and their efficiency, are an evaluation criteria of the quality and efficiency of the work we do. So, I expect to see attacks against our institutions and prosecutors. But I think that my previous experience was a good preparation for what will follow. I'm sure that we will form a very good team together with all the European prosecutors, I will not be alone in this fight. We will have an entire team working in the EPPO and I hope that our activity will have a positive impact. I’m also sure that such attacks will follow, but I am prepared and I am convinced that my colleagues will also be ready."