Plans for a European Public Prosecutor to take charge of investigating money laundering, fraud and other crimes 'where the [European] community's financial interests are affected' are being opposed by the UK government.
Home Office minister Bob Ainsworth told the Commons European Scrutiny Committee that priority should instead be given to ‘Eurojust’ – the body set up a month ago to co-ordinate the fight against fraud and corruption and any financial crime affecting the EU’s financial interests.
He said a EPP would involve major changes in UK laws and procedures on Continental European instead of Anglo-Saxon lines. It would also breach the understanding that criminal matters should be treated under national law in co-operation with member states, not by EU institutions.
The European Commission has proposed a Treaty change which would require the EPP to be set up under qualified majority voting procedures, subject to agreement by the European Parliament.
A deputy would be appointed for each member state with the power to overrule state prosecuting authorities and direct investigations by national police authorities.
The original green paper setting out the proposal said the new office was needed because of the scale of fraud – estimated at Euro 413m (£253m) in 1999 by the European Anti-Fraud Office.
The commission complained that existing traditional methods of judicial co-operation between member states are ‘cumbersome’.
A proposed directive on the criminal protection of the EC’s financial interests defines the offences and penalties for fraud, corruption and money-laundering, including ‘grossly negligent’ as well as ‘reckless’ conduct by professionals.
The committee agreed with the UK government ‘that no sufficient case has been made out for the creation of an EPP’ but said they were ‘concerned’ at the effort the commission has put into spelling out their proposals in detail.
The idea may be raised at the next EU summit.