The European Commission said Wednesday it plans a special prosecutor's office to combat fraud and other crimes affecting the EU's budget with powers to operate directly in member states.
The European Public Prosecutor's Office will "investigate and prosecute and, where relevant, bring to judgement -- in the member states' courts -- crimes affecting the EU budget," the Commission said.
The move "will decisively enhance the protection of taxpayers' money and the effective tackling of fraud involving EU funds," Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement.
The current EU budget works out at some 130 billion euros and the Commission estimates fraud costs about 500 million euros annually.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said there had to be "zero tolerance" of fraud.
"Let's be clear -- if we, the EU, don't protect our federal budget, nobody will do it for us," she said.
The Commission said there is "a very uneven level of protection and enforcement across the EU when it comes to tackling EU fraud.
"Many cases are not prosecuted at all, allowing fraudsters to get away with exploiting legal loopholes and pocketing citizens' money," it said.
At the same time, there "is a large disparity across member states in terms of conviction rates for offences against the EU budget," it added.
The new office is planned to become operational by January 2015, subject to approval by the EU's 28 member states and the European Parliament.