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Ireland balks at plan for single EU law office

IRELAND is to oppose a move to appoint a single European prosecutor with powers to initiate investigations into serious cross-border crimes.

The controversial proposal was put forward by EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini, who says he is convinced that Europe will have a general prosecutor in the future.

He plans to create the single prosecutor's office out of the existing Eurojust judicial body, which he aims to beef up in the autumn.

Eurojust consists of a network of 27 national prosecutors and judges helping member states to deal with serious cross-border crime such as counterfeiting, child pornography and trafficking in arms, drugs and humans.

But according to observers in Brussels, the network is highly dependent on the list of responsibilities granted by EU capitals to their representatives in Eurojust, and this varies widely.

However, Ireland will be at the forefront of a group of member states that are opposed to the plan for a single prosecutor.

The Department of Justice said last night that an EU prosecutor would undermine the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions and would not be compatible with the Irish common law system.

Proposals for this measure were included in the proposed European constitution and will also be provided for in the draft new EU reform treaty.

The reform treaty would enable the EU to establish a single prosecutor by unanimous agreement of the Council of Europe with the consent of the European Parliament. If unanimous agreement cannot be reached, there will be provision in the treaty for enhanced co-operation in cases where where a minimum of at least nine of the member states are in favour.

Mr Frattini argues that a single prosecutor could prove useful in areas where important European interests are at stake.

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He said that financial crime, fraud and counterfeiting were areas that could benefit from a single office.

Addressing some of the concerns expressed by member states, Mr Frattini said he understood there would never be an European criminal code.

But he said that harmonisation was needed of some definitions, such as what constituted a terrorist activity or trafficking of children If the treaty is accepted, it will end the control of national governments over sensitive areas in justice and home affairs, and decisions would be taken on a qualified majority voting system at EU level.

Mr Frattini said that he hoped to establish a much more effective decision-making process and was keen for critics such as Ireland and the United Kingdom to opt into many, if not all, of the areas covered under his proposals.

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