EU ambassadors have backed Romania’s Laura Kovesi to head a new pan-bloc prosecutor’s office, in what supporters see as a big step in the fight against authoritarian creep in several central and eastern European states.
Envoys from all but five of the 22 voting member states endorsed Ms Kovesi in an indicative poll on Thursday, opening the way for her formal endorsement for the high-profile European job after the government in Bucharest last year ousted her as national anti-corruption head.
Her candidacy to become the EU’s first ever chief public prosecutor stalled earlier this year, when she won the backing of the European Parliament but was opposed by a plurality of EU countries, including her own, in favour of a French candidate. Paris relented in July and agreed to leave a clear run for Ms Kovesi, who needs the backing of member states and the newly elected parliament.
Ms Kovesi won plaudits at home and in other European capitals for her five-year tenure leading Romania’s anti-corruption directorate, which secured convictions against ministers, MPs and mayors. Liviu Dragnea, the head of the ruling Social Democrat party when Ms Kovesi was forced from office, was jailed in May for three and a half years in a corruption case.
The decision to back Ms Kovesi was “a great boost to the social activism and the anti-corruption, anti-government movement and to the justice system itself, which has been under constant attack” from Bucharest, said Oana Popescu, a former Romanian state secretary for European affairs and director of the GlobalFocus think-tank.
Ms Kovesi will become one of the highest-profile EU officials from eastern Europe in the next commission.
“In a field that is really of paramount importance to EU, which is rule of law, it gives a strong signal that where there is merit, where there is good work being done in central and eastern Europe, that we can get a position,” said Ms Popescu.
During the nomination process, Ms Kovesi faced a number of obstacles from Bucharest. After her ousting as chief prosecutor in July 2018, she was twice put under investigation in a move her supporters said was politically motivated. In March, she was summoned for hours of questioning on the day the European Parliament was to vote on her candidacy.
Starting in 2017, Romania’s Social Democrat-led government passed a number of controversial reforms decriminalising corruption, which prompted the largest demonstrations since the fall of communism in 1989 and contributed to clashes with Brussels. Some elements of the reforms have been annulled, but Ms Popsecu said not enough had been done and that the DNA, the anti-corruption body Ms Kovesi once led, would step up its investigation of high-level officials.
“Since Ms Kovesi left, the DNA haven’t really had any high-profile cases prosecuted any visible people in the current or past government . . . the vote in her favour is a victory for the anti-corruption energy,” she said.