Former Romanian anti-bribery chief Kövesi is close to becoming EU chief prosecutor

After a month-long standoff in appointing the EU’s first-ever anti-fraud prosecutor, a majority of member states last week backed making Romania’s former top anti-corruption official Laura Codruța Kövesi despite strong headwind from her own homecountry.

“An informal vote confirmed there is a sufficient majority” among EU ambassadors on Thursday (19 September) to put Kövesi in charge of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) set to start work at the end of 2020, according to a diplomat from Finland, which holds the EU’s rotating.

According to EU sources, the Romanian received 17 votes in a secret ballot from the 22 countries that are members of the new Luxembourg-based EU agency, aside from a few notable exceptions, such as the UK, Poland and Hungary. EPPO is meant to tackle corruption, cross-border VAT fraud and investigate suspected fraud involving the EU’s budget.

After Kövesi has now received the backing of MEPs and EU ambassadors, member states are expected to confirm her in the post in the coming weeks.

The 46-year-old Romanian called her endorsement “a vote of confidence and of support for a society that stood by justice and EU values”.

“It’s a recognition of the work of the Romanian prosecutors and judges, but at the same time it’s also a success for all Romanians who in the last few years supported the fight against corruption and for the rule of law and EU values,” Kövesi told AFP after her nomination.

Her appointment comes despite strong headwind from her home country, Romania. For month, Bucharest had declared it will not back Kövesi, who was instrumental in launching fraud probes in the country.

In 2015, the Guardian called her a ‘quiet, unassuming chief prosecutor, who is bringing in the scalps’.

Over the five years of Kövesi’s being the country’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor – between 2013 to July 2018 – thousands of persons were indicted, including 14 former or current ministers, media moguls, judges, prosecutors, 43 MPs more than 260 local officials and businessmen.

After her firing last year, which had sparked massive protests in the EU’s most corruption-plagued member states, Romanian authorities also compiled their own corruption accusations against Kövesi, which she dismissed as part of slander campaigning unleashed against her in Romania.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, who had repeatedly criticised Romania’s Social Democrats for undermining the rule of law, said the vote was an important victory for Romania.

“Especially because it was obtained despite the fact that the PSD government has permanently tried to block the candidacy of a professional acknowledged for the fight against corruption and defending the rule of law.”

As EURACTIV Romania reported, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis confirmed that he consulted the Romania’s ambassador to the EU, Luminița Odobescu, before the vote among ministers in the Council, and conveyed his support for Kövesi.

“I have communicated that I, the president of Romania, support Mrs Kövesi as Chief of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, ” Iohannis said on Friday.

The public endorsement came as a clarification after media reports suggested Odobescu would have voted for Kövesi at the request of Iohannis, although Prime Minister Vasilica-Viorica Dăncilă had asked her for the opposite.

The key to Kövesi’s nomination, however, turned out to be in the hands of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose U-turn in regard to support for her candidacy was rated as a personal victory.

Kövesi’s path in the race for the EPPO lead was cleared when Paris switched its support to her before the summer break, after the country’s own candidate, Jean-Francois Bohnert, secured the national financial prosecutorial post instead.

With the unusual step of abandoning his own candidate, Macron could support the narrative of a Eastern European country obtaining an important EU post, especially after eastern countries missed out in the EU’s top job race.

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