By Koen Bovend’Eerdt
The Commission established OLAF (Office de Lutte Anti-Fraude), an administrative investigative service of the Commission, in 1999, in the wake of the fall of the Santer Commission, to strengthen the fight against illegal activities affecting the Union’s financial interests. One of the shortcomings in OLAF’s legal framework on the conduct of on-the-spot inspections, one of the service’s main investigative powers, is that it refers back to national law at various instances, requiring OLAF to cooperate with national authorities which operate on the basis of national law. A question that has lingered in academic circles for some time is when precisely – and to what extent – national law applies. In the recent Sigma Orionis case the General Court shed light on this issue. The General Court’s solution has been embraced by the Commission in its recently published proposal to amend the rules which govern OLAF’s investigations. The Commission´s proposal, as a result of the Court´s judgment, places OLAF shoulder to shoulder with other Union bodies – at least when it comes to the applicable law – in the business of enforcing Union law by means of inspections. Continue reading
On 17 July 2013 the European Commission launched its proposal on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (‘Proposed EPPO Regulation’). With this proposal, the Commission aims at improving the enforcement of offences affecting the EU’s financial interests and thereby at increasing the deterrent effect of law enforcement. At present, those offences are investigated and prosecuted by national prosecution authorities, to be brought to trial before national courts. This approach is however deemed inadequate. Offences affecting the EU budget are usually complex cases with a cross-border dimension and ‘of secondary importance’ for national prosecutors. Moreover, statistics used by the Commission show substantial differences in enforcement between the various Member States. With the establishment of an EPPO, this should change significantly. Most notable is the shift from administrative investigations, as they are now conducted by OLAF (i.e., the EU’s antifraud office), to criminal investigations by the EPPO, a new EU judicial body.
The idea of an EPPO is far from new. The first concrete proposals in that direction saw the light in the Corpus Juris (1997, finalised in 2000). This research project proposed an extensive harmonisation of national criminal procedure, which was politically unacceptable at the time. In 2001, the European Commission presented a Green Paper, which took an entirely different approach based on the principle of mutual recognition. The EPPO would apply national criminal procedure rules when investigating, prosecuting and bringing to trial offences against the Union’s financial interests. After a very critical public consultation, which revealed numerous pitfalls, the EPPO ‘dream’ was shelved for a few years, until it resurfaced in the Lisbon Treaty. Article 86 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’) now provides an explicit formal basis for the creation of an EPPO. It determines the applicable legislative procedure and instrument, as well as the scope and competence of the future EPPO. Other aspects are left to the wisdom and discretion of the EU legislator. The current Commission proposal is based on Article 86 TFEU, and draws inspiration from the Draft Model Rules, which resulted from a triple EPPO research project funded by the Commission.