STA, 6 December 2021 - Paying a visit to Ljubljana, European Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi said on Monday that no one could dismiss European delegated prosecutors without the consent of the EU's chief prosecutor. She drew attention to pressure on Slovenian prosecutors, telling them: "Stay vigilant, speak up, you are not alone."
Slovenia's two delegated prosecutors Tanja Frank Eler and Matej Oštir have been appointed for fully-fledged five-year terms, starting with 1 December, she highlighted at an online news conference.
She said that for the first six months since the European Public Prosecutor's Office's (EPPO) launch, "Slovenia was a member of the EPPO zone only on paper". "This delay did not only affect possible criminal investigations in Slovenia, but also all the cross-border investigations the EPPO initiated in other participating member states involving Slovenia."
The EPPO head warned about pressure on Slovenia's judiciary, stressing the importance of an independent judicial branch. "Only an independent judiciary can enforce the law equally for everybody," she said.
"I was very impressed by the courage and determination of Slovenian judges and prosecutors, including our new colleagues, to safeguard judicial independence." She also urged her colleagues in Slovenia to "stay vigilant, speak up", telling them they were not alone in these efforts.
"I was not born yesterday. I have experienced all sorts of attacks, intimidation and tricks to reduce the independence of judiciary," Kovesi said, noting that judicial independence can be chipped away through small steps such as funding cuts and legislative changes.
EPPO prosecutors are "independent from any national authorities, but they are in the same boat as national prosecutors". Whatever affects the latter also has an impact on the former, she added, referring to such changes or cuts.
The Slovenian government has recently proposed changes to public prosecution legislation that would enable it to recall delegated prosecutors and give it a greater say in their appointment procedure.
Kovesi said that any changes in the national legislation that affect the EPPO would be monitored by the office and the European Commission would be notified if the changes go against the EPPO regulations. A procedure may then be launched against the country in question.
She underlined, however, that EPPO prosecutors are appointed by the EPPO college, and without the consent of the EU's chief prosecutor no one can dismiss them.
The national authorities have started to transfer to the EPPO all the on-going investigations falling under its remit. So far, some 2,500 criminal reports have been processed and more than 500 criminal investigations have been launched for an estimated damage of some EUR 5 billion to the EU budget, she told the press.
According to Slovenia's State Prosecutor General Drago Šketa, there are 20-30 investigations currently open in the country.
Kovesi is happy that the EPPO office in Ljubljana has been finally launched, noting that the office is not a foreign institution. Delegated prosecutors have the same powers as their national counterparts and they bring their cases to trial in front of national courts, she added.
Šketa also welcomed the fact that the EPPO is now operational in Slovenia. "I'm convinced that the work of this new European institution will have extremely positive effects in the long term. State borders should not be a bigger obstacle for prosecution authorities than for offenders," he told the press conference.
Responding to the government's public prosecution bill, State Prosecutorial Council head Tamara Gregorčič again stressed the importance of prosecutors' independence.
The council strongly opposes the proposed changes which would interfere with the constitutionally guaranteed independence of public prosecutors and allow pressure to be exerted on their appointments or work, she reiterated.