The European Commission has been forced to consider changing its rules to set up a European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) because Malta has been unable to nominate three eligible candidates.

The rules currently in place require participating countries to pick at least three candidates to sit on the EPPO’s College of Prosecutors. The European Council will then select one of the three shortlisted candidates following interviews by an independent selection panel. 

According to EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, Malta has only been able to present two candidates and in order to “unblock the situation”, the Commission is now considering making changes to the rules.

Reynders said that he had been informed by Malta's justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis that the country faced "specific, inherent challenges" to find enough candidates who meet EPPO selection criteria. 

According to the EU law establishing the EPPO, nominees must: 

  • Be active members of a country's prosecution service or judiciary

  • Have their independence considered beyond doubt

  • Be qualified to be appointed to the judiciary or high prosecutorial office in their respective country

  • Have relevant practical experience of financial investigations and international judicial cooperation

Brussels hopes to have the EPPO up and running by November, with Reynders saying this was still the plan, despite Malta's difficulties.

“We are now considering an amendment to the operating rules of the selection panel to allow the panel to recruit from two eligible candidates in exceptional and justified cases. This would unblock the current situation,” the Commissioner said in comments to the press. 

Questions on the matter have been sent to the Justice Ministry.

The EPPO was established to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU’s financial interests, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud.

Malta had initially declined to join the office but reversed that decision in 2018. 

Times of Malta had revealed last month that it was finding it difficult to nominate three candidates to the EPPO post. 

An EPPO spokesperson had at the time noted that the delay would hamper the office's work. 

"As long as the EPPO College is not appointed, crucial steps in the establishment of the EPPO cannot take place and the EPPO cannot start to operate," the spokesman had said.

Government reacts

Meanwhile, in comments to Times of Malta, a government spokesperson admitted the pool of eligible candidates is “very small” and that of those who are also interested in the role is even smaller. 

“Small Union Member States faced these challenges as well,” the spokesperson said. Since March 2019 there have been a total of three calls for applications, after which Malta had sent three names to the EPPO. Of these, two of these names were “deemed ineligible”, the spokesperson said.

“A process of head-hunting individuals from the Police Force, from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and from the body of Magistrates then kicked in. All this was done whilst keeping in constant contact with the European Commission.

Following this phase, the government put forward another set of three names,
including that of the individual who had already been regarded eligible by the EPPO.

However, soon after, one of the three nominees withdrew the application, resulting in Malta having only two candidates to put forward. It was at this point that the government and the Commission agreed on the possibility of amending the rules to allow Malta to put forward only two names.  

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