With the European Parliament’s plenary debate and vote on the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) due this week, one may wonder if and when the EU machinery will start discussing the real “hot potatoes” at stake! As a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, one would expect the EU machinery (including EU member states’ justice ministers, MEPs and the responsible European Commission officials) to, first and foremost, focus their discussions on guaranteeing the fundamental rights of those who will be investigated and prosecuted by the new supranational body and clarify to whom the EPPO will be accountable to and supervised by – but far from it!
Two years after the European Commission’s proposal intending to take the criminal justice integration significantly further than any other previous instrument in the EU’s area of security, freedom and justice (ASFJ), political negotiations in the Council have so far centered around questions relating to the general necessity of such a body, its influence on domestic affairs and its structure. Officially! Or was this inofficially so far all about EU member states’ worries to transfer some “holy” national, sovereign powers in the sensitive area of criminal justice over to Brussels?
Either way, losing power is never an easy take, agreed! Yet, not to ensure citizens the full protection against the EPPO’s intrusive, coercive measures (such as against interceptions of telecommunication, house searches and arrests across all territories of the participating countries) is not an option for the continent. If the EU was serious about a better coordinated EU-level response to increasingly organised cross-border crime, EU member states in the Council will not get around the new questions surrounding transnational criminal law enforcement in relation to its underlying fundamental rights and rule of law principle. With approximately 3,600 organised crime groups operating in the borders of the EU, it is undoubtedly vital to tackle cross-border crime more effectively. It is, however, equally important to ensure every future suspect under investigation his or her basic rights, legal remedies and legal certainty.
While heavily debated among EU member states in the Council, the responsible LIBE Committee in the European Parliament has proven once again to be in favour of an EPPO that is strong and fully independent from national governments and EU institutions (see the second Interim Report on the proposal for a Council Regulation of 18 March 2015). However, a fully-fledged supranational investigator and prosecutor for the EU is not thinkable without clearly defined means of judicial review (through the competent national courts, the European Court of Justice or a new specialised European Criminal Court) and a strict guarantee of fundamental rights for defendants.
Time to turn to the crucial issues!
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