The freedom of movement of goods, capital, services and people has created a whole web of relationships and shared interests in the European Union. But such a “factual solidarity” is not sufficient to ensure the people’s actual adherence to the European integration project. Removing trade barriers, roaming charges, investing in European infrastructure, it all makes sense, but does it win people’s hearts and minds?
I have been a prosecutor for half of my life. I have combatted high level corruption for many years and have first hand experience with the vital importance of fairness, the willingness to obey commonly agreed rules, the ability to administer justice, in other words – the rule of law. This is the core of the European Union for me, as well as, I am sure, for millions of European citizens who grew up under dictatorial regimes in a divided Europe: our only effective way to ensure the rule of law, true democracy, in a globalized world.
This is why I am convinced that the methodical and sustained attempts to undermine the rule of law in several Member States of the European Union currently represent a systemic threat to the European integration project. We need to confront it accordingly. At the beginning of 2020, as extremely worrying news on the possible collapse of our ecosystem keep piling up while the uproar of war can no longer be ignored, some might not perceive this task as a priority. Fortunately, this is not the case at the level of the European Union, where there is a real effort to come up with the appropriate response.
One of the new instruments that can play a key role in this respect is the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. The outcome of more than twenty years of convincing and negotiations, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office is one of the most ambitious European integration projects of the last decade.
The immediate objective is to ensure a unified approach in the fight against fraud and crime affecting the financial interests of the European Union. Currently, there are significant discrepancies in the intensity of investigation and prosecution in this field among the Member States. Therefore, it would have been preferable if all the Member States chose to participate in the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. The door remains open to those that have not joined yet.
The main tasks of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be to conduct criminal investigations, to strengthen the cooperation between Member States and to recover the damages from criminal activities under its scope of competence. All this in full respect of the fundamental rights of the people involved in the criminal proceedings and of the procedural criminal laws of the participating Member States.
As from 1 November 2019, I have taken up my function as the first European Chief Prosecutor. In the seven years to come, my task will be to make the European Public Prosecutor’s Office a tangible reality.
To me it is clear that there is more at stake in the successful establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office than to get yet another European Union body up and running and to improve the level of protection of the financial interests of the European Union.
An efficient European Public Prosecutor’s Office could help the European Union to make the case for an adequate budget. If we manage to fight fraud affecting European funds, there will be more trust in the system and these funds will fulfil better their purpose and bring more added value. And this is true for all the Member States: net contributors as well as net receivers.
An efficient European Public Prosecutor’s Office could help in convincing Member States, in due time, to join forces also in other fields where it makes sense. Several ideas have been floated already: anti-terrorism, transnational organised crime, environmental crime, money-laundering, tax fraud…
But for me, an efficient European Public Prosecutor’s Office is first and foremost a means to win the hearts and minds of the European citizens, to increase their trust in the European Union and adherence to European integration.
In a democratic society, the accuracy of the analysis that political leaders make of the contemporary challenges and opportunities that we face and that must be addressed serves little without the trust of the people. If you lie, cheat and steal without consequences, you instil despair and fear. If you inspire hope and then disappoint, if you say one thing to get elected but do something else once you are in power, if you abuse power, you open the gates for barbarity.
This is why I want the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to be a truly independent, efficient and strong institution, an institution that the citizens will trust. Together with the European Court of Justice, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office will reinforce the European Union’s justice pillar, and will protect the European values, citizens and financial interests.