Slovenia 'obstructing' work of EU fraud-fighting agency, boss says
Slovenia’s failure to nominate any of its prosecutors to the EU’s new fraud-fighting agency raises questions about whether the bloc’s budget can be adequately protected, the agency's chief prosecutor warned on Friday.
Laura Kövesi, who heads the Luxembourg-based European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), shared her concerns about Slovenia's “persisting obstruction” at a meeting with EU Justice Ministers, which took place in the Grand Duchy on Thursday, according to a statement released by her office on Friday.
EPPO, which officially began operations in June, investigates crimes against the EU’s budget. Slovenia is the only one of 22 participating countries which has not nominated any local delegated prosecutors as required.
EPPO's prosecutors in Luxembourg work with teams in their home countries to investigate and try cases in national courts, meaning Slovenia’s failure to nominate prosecutors is hindering investigations into potential theft of EU money inside the country.
Poland, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Sweden are the only EU countries outside EPPO, although officials in Sweden have said it plans on joining next year.
Kövesi said Slovenia's delay created “a prosecution gap in the EPPO zone” that raised doubts about whether the EU's budget was being adequately protected, EPPO said in a statement released on Friday.
Last week, Kövesi accused Slovenia of “interfering” with EPPO’s work and described the situation as a “dangerous precedent” when appearing at a meeting of the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee.
"The fact that a member state of is interfering with the prospering function of an EU judicial institution sets a very dangerous precedent," Kövesi said, adding that she had informed the European Commission and Council of the situation.
The EP’s budget committee was told that Slovenian Justice Minister Marjan Dikaučič was invited to the hearing last Friday but declined to attend, citing a schedule clash.
Dragging its heels
The row over Slovenia comes after EPPO 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.
In May, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša refused to approve the nomination of two candidates for EPPO suggested by the country’s prosecution.
During a press event with Janša in July to launch Slovenia’s six-month stint as chair of the EU Presidency, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on the country to nominate its candidates for EPPO with the “utmost urgency”. Janša said at the time that Slovenia had no intention of withdrawing from EPPO and told reporters that he expected the selection process to be completed in the autumn.
EPPO has so far received more than 2,000 reports of crime against the bloc’s budget, representing an estimated loss of almost €4.6 billion, Kövesi told MEPs at last week’s meeting. Over 350 investigations are underway, she said.
She also called on the EU to urgently grant additional resources, saying the money was needed to recruit IT specialists and financial investigators. The request calls on a budget increase which would allow it to almost double its workforce, from 130 at present to 250.
The agency is embroiled in a funding row with the European Commission after reports that the bloc’s executive arm blocked the hiring of new staff from a €7 million allocation agreed last year.