EU Commission blocking hiring of staff, says EPPO
The EU’s new fraud-fighting agency is embroiled in a funding row with the European Commission after the bloc’s executive arm reportedly blocked the hiring of new staff from a €7 million allocation agreed last year.
The row marks a further blow for recruitment at the Luxembourg-based European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), which was dogged by delays prior to the commencement of operations in June, as the agency could not start its work until at least one delegated prosecutor from each participating member had been appointed.
EPPO originally requested a budget of €55.5 million for this year, but the European Commission did not agree to that amount, instead allocating almost €38 million. Last December, the European Parliament and the European Council agreed to an additional €7.3 million in funding. Despite that approval, the Commission has refused to release the extra money, the EUobserver reported, designed for the hiring of “specialised staff” such as financial investigators.
EPPO confirmed that the additional funding for recruitment was being withheld by the Commission, but declined to comment on the reasons behind the decision.
“We were very happy with the additional €7.3 million we received after long negotiations. However, we have not been allowed to use that additional money to hire specialised staff for our central office, i.e. financial investigators, case analysts, clerks, legal experts etc,” said EPPO spokeswoman Tine Hollevoet, in an email to the Luxembourg Times.
Specialised staff hires 'not allowed'
The fraud-fighting agency said it had requested resources in next year’s budget which would allow it to almost double its workforce.
“For 2022, we have requested €65.5 million and we would like to hire 120 additional staff members for Luxembourg (from 130 now),” Hollevoet wrote.
Pressed about the issue during a press conference on Tuesday, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand refused to be drawn on the specific point of whether the bloc’s executive arm had blocked the hiring of EPPO staff.
Budget under review
“This additional funding we actually proposed originally… it is indeed necessary for the Commission to also decide or agree on allocations of staff. Of course, we will not discuss this in any detail [with the press],” Wigand told journalists in Brussels.
“We have agreed for some additional staff for the EPPO and we have also agreed with the EPPO that looking at next year’s budget, this can again be discussed, once the EPPO is in full swing… it is easier and clearer to see what the full needs are,” added the Commission spokesman.
EPPO has received more than 1,700 reports of crime against the bloc's budget – 300 of which are currently under investigation, representing an estimated loss of almost €4.5 billion - from the 22 countries which form part of its operations since it officially launched in June.
Poland, Hungary, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden are the only EU countries outside EPPO, though Sweden plans on joining next year.
EPPO's 22 national prosecutors, representing each of the participating EU countries, work with teams in their home countries to investigate and try cases in national courts.
The latest dispute between EPPO and the Commission comes amid an ongoing struggle for European institutions in Luxembourg to attract staff because workers are better off if they do the same job in Brussels, where they receive the same salary.
An article in The Luxembourg Times in August revealed a letter from the European Court of Auditors (ECA) Secretary-General Zacharias Kolias to EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in which Kolias said it is “absolutely necessary” to raise wages for Luxembourg-based EU employees due to the higher cost of living, particularly accommodation.