MEPs back Romanian anti-graft prosecutor's bid for top EU job
Boost for Laura Codruta Kovesi amid fierce opposition from Bucharest
Laura Codruta Kovesi: Romania’s ruling Socialists fiercely oppose her bid to lead the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office, having seen her successfully pursue some of its leading members as head of the country’s anti-corruption agency. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA
European Parliament committees have backed Romania’s Laura Codruta Kovesi to be the EU’s first chief prosecutor, putting them at odds with member states that voted for a rival candidate after strong lobbying by Bucharest.
Romania’s ruling Socialists fiercely oppose Ms Codruta Kovesi’s bid to lead the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), having seen her successfully pursue some of its leading members as head of the country’s anti-corruption agency.
The government forced her out of that post last year, while pushing through major judicial reforms that have alarmed the EU and United States and sparked street protests by Romanians who fear anti-graft efforts are being blunted. The controversy has dominated Romania’s current presidency of the EU.
The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee gave Ms Codruta Kovesi 26 votes in Wednesday’s ballot, ahead of France’s Jean-Francois Bohnert on 22 votes and Andres Ritter of Germany with one vote.
A vote by the parliament’s committee for budgetary control delivered the same outcome on Tuesday.
The results reinvigorated Ms Codruta Kovesi’s hopes following a galling defeat last week, when ambassadors of member states voted for Mr Bohnert amid intense efforts by the Bucharest government to undermine her candidacy.
Romania’s justice minister Tudorel Toader told EU colleagues that Ms Codruta Kovesi made “secret and anti-democratic pacts” with the security services, and a new investigative unit run by government loyalists recently launched a case against her for alleged abuse of office and bribery – allegations she flatly denies.
“This vote is for all Romanian citizens who have supported the fight against corruption and for the rule of law, and for all prosecutors in Romania and in Europe who are working under pressure,” Ms Codruta Kovesi said after Wednesday’s victory.
“I am honoured by today’s vote, but we must wait for the decision of the (European) Council, which is a political decision,” she added, while also expressing support for Romanian prosecutors, judges and magistrates who stopped work this week in protest at the government’s reforms.
The European Parliament is expected to finalise its decision on a candidate early next month, and an appointment will be made after agreement is reached with the European Council of member-state governments.
“It’s going to be a very challenging discussion,” Claude Moraes, the chair of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, told Bloomberg.
“National sovereignty has always been very protected. This is a really sensitive and important position.”
The EPPO will investigate the annual theft of hundreds of millions of euro in EU funds and major cross-border tax fraud, which could lead to clashes with governments and ruling parties – like Romania’s own – which have poor records on fighting corruption.
Ireland is one of six EU states that have not signed up to the EPPO, which is due to start work by 2021.