This week the European Council discussed the future of Europe at 27, on the basis of the Commission’s white paper. And, at the same time, it marked a remarkable decision. Seventeen EU member states will go forward and establish – for the first time – a European Public Prosecutor. This will greatly improve the ability of participating countries to fight financial crime and protect the EU taxpayers’ money.
Soon an independent EU prosecutor will be able to investigate certain cross-border cases and bring actions against criminals directly in front of national courts.
At a time when ‘more Europe’ is not the most popular idea, this bold move to share sovereignty might sound surprising.
But boiling down the discussion on Europe’s future to a binary choice between more or less Europe is misleading and simplistic. In fact, this is an excellent example of a possible avenue forward for the EU27: those who want more do more, keeping the door open for others to join them later.
Every year at least €50 billion of revenues from VAT are lost for national budgets all over Europe through cross-border fraud.
This happens when fraudsters buy goods from another EU country without paying the VAT and subsequently resell the goods at home at a higher price including VAT but without passing it on to the tax authority.
Not acting on such cross-border fraud cases is a blow to public finances and a blow to the credibility of the union. Transnational organised crime is making billions in profit every year by circumventing national rules and escaping criminal prosecution. And in spite of extremely strict rules and controls, criminals are still sometimes able to tap into money from EU funds through similar methods. This has to stop.
European integration – even in sensitive areas like justice – is one realistic option
National prosecutors are doing an excellent job and they prosecute cases of fraud actively. But their tools to fight large-scale cross-border financial crime are limited and slow.
They can go for ad-hoc cooperation through joint investigation teams. Yet this usually involves lengthy procedures. Whenever they need to seize money or evidence abroad, whenever the investigation needs to take place swiftly and simultaneously in different countries, they are simply not well equipped.
The European Public Prosecutor will provide the missing tools: swift investigations across the EU and real-time information exchange.
The European prosecutor will work with delegated prosecutors from each of the 17 participating countries, bringing together their national expertise and coordinating it at EU level.
We want to build a strong, independent and efficient body, which will develop expertise in fighting financial crime across the EU. This could be compared to the national anti-mafia prosecutor’s office set up in Italy which has become a game-changer in combatting mafia criminal activities over the past 20 years.
Seventeen member states will now go forward on this, and we trust that others will join in.
We expect to have 19 soon or even 20 founding members.
The Commission always works for all the member states and this policy is open to all but those who want to go forward and deliver for their taxpayers after three years of negotiations should not be held back. This is an example of how we can do more, with the countries who want to do more.
This is already a reality in Europe today – the euro, Schengen, the EU Patent.
And it is now happening in an area beyond the economy.
With the European Commission’s white paper of March 1, we have launched a broad debate on the future of a united EU27 last week. There are different paths we can choose to take.
The dynamics around the European Public Prosecutor demonstrates one thing very clearly: further European integration – even in sensitive areas like justice – is one realistic option. We do not need everyone to go forward at the same speed, but we do need everyone pulling in the same direction.
Jean-Claude Juncker is president of the European Commission and Vera Jourová is European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.
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