The European Public Prosecutor's Office started work on Tuesday. The Luxembourg-based EPPO is tasked with cracking down on fraudulent use of European Union funds.
The first chief of the EPPO, Laura Kovesi, called the launch "a historic moment."
"Our target [is] economic and financial criminality. Make no mistake, this is the most common threat to any democratic society," Kovesi said.
Officials cited by AFP news agency estimate that about €500 million ($611 million) of EU funds are drained fraudulently each year.
Kovesi's team was initially meant to start working last year, but there were delays from 22 participating EU member states in selecting prosecutors.
EU justice ministers had agreed to establish the EPPO in 2017. Five member states had not yet joined on launch day.
Which crimes can the EPPO investigate?
Kövesi and 22 prosecutors are set to investigate crimes related to the EU budget, including money laundering, corruption and tax fraud.
The office "will rely also on the national authorities to detect these type of crimes," Kovesi told DW, adding that it will "have access to all the cases that are in 22 member states."
The European Commission expects the EPPO to investigate about 3,000 cases annually.
"Our expectation is to have some crimes in all the fields, especially in health care systems, in agriculture, investment and public procurement," Kovesi said in a separate statement.
The new office will "strengthen the protection of the budget of the EU," the European Commission stressed.
What about the EU COVID relief plan?
"[The EPPO] will observe the implementation of Next Generation EU with an eagle eye to make sure funds will reach our economy and our citizens," the European Commission said in a statement, referring to a COVID relief plan.
Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner for transparency, said the EPPO was a "strong signal in the fight against fraud, especially at a moment where Europe invests a lot of money in the recovery."
The €750 billion plan is a package of grants and loans to help EU countries bounce back from the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is clear with the new package there will be a lot of money, more flexibility. This means a higher risk to have more crimes for EPPO," Kovesi said.
fb/aw (AFP, dpa)