Centrist MEPs on Thursday dismissed an attempt by Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa to calm a political storm over Lisbon’s nominee to the EU prosecutor’s office.
The affair has cast a shadow over Costa’s Socialist government at the start of its six-month stint as president of the Council of the EU.
In a letter to Dacian Cioloș, leader of the centrist Renew Europe group in the European Parliament, Costa wrote that “there was no political interference” in the appointment of José Guerra, the country’s representative to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), which was set up last year to crack down on misuse of EU funds.
Renew Europe swiftly dismissed the letter as insufficient.
“The response we received was not clarifying enough,” the group said in a statement, “and therefore we need a debate with all players involved. Our interest is the reputation and functioning of the EPPO. It is therefore vital for us that objectivity and meritocracy rule in the appointments of the prosecutors — any suspicion of possible political influence should be avoided.”
Both Renew Europe and the center-right European People’s Party have been up in arms over what they say was a politically motivated attempt by Lisbon to push Guerra through, surpassing a European advisory panel favoring another Portuguese candidate, Ana Carla Almeida.
Renew Europe asked Costa to publicly clarify the reasons why Portuguese officials inflated Guerra’s position in the Portuguese judicial hierarchy, as well as his role in major investigations into the misuse of EU funds.
The affair also sparked a political storm in Portugal. Opposition leaders say the prosecutor was selected because of his ties to Costa and the Socialist government. They have called for Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem to quit.
Costa has told journalists that errors were “perfectly irrelevant” in Guerra’s evaluation process. But in a letter to Almeida sent in October by Michael Clauss, the German ambassador to the EU, the Council of the EU acknowledged it had taken into consideration the information provided by the Portuguese authorities when making its pick for the EPPO.
The outrage intensified in recent weeks with the media reporting a letter to the Council in which Lisbon tried to justify its decision to nominate Guerra. The letter contains three errors inflating Guerra’s position.
In his letter to Cioloș, Costa said the judicial authorities that oversaw Guerra’s nomination acted independently, and that his government had found out “two weeks ago” about two lapses in the candidate’s résumé — “But those were promptly rectified in a new letter to the council on January 4th,” he wrote.
An official from the EPP said the letter “explains nothing,” and “only the last paragraph confirms that the nomination was based on two errors.”
Portugal’s Costa fails to quell criticism over prosecutor pick The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Politico.