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Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship

European arrest warrant an "important tool" that should be used correctly

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Since coming into force as the system of extradition between member states in January 2004, the European arrest warrant has had many successes. Implementation by EU countries has led to over 11,000 suspects being surrendered between 2005 and 2009, and to extradition times being cut significantly. But, as a Commission report released today acknowledges, shortcomings remain.

Fugitives caught with the European arrest warrant include a failed London bomber caught in Italy, a German serial killer tracked down in Spain, and a gang of armed robbers sought by Italy whose members were then arrested in six different EU countries. Meanwhile, extradition time before arrest has been cut from an average of one year to a minimum of 16 days. These are just a few examples of how the European Arrest Warrant has served as an important tool for fighting crime across borders.

Yet the report highlights that its effectiveness can be hampered by concerns over respect for fundamental rights in Member States and a possible over-use in cases that are not very serious.

The Commission is addressing some of these issues and thereby helping to ensure respect for fundamental rights. Recent legislation has been adopted on giving criminals access to interpretation and translation, and the EU has also proposed a Letter of Rights to be provided during criminal proceedings. Further measures are planned to ensure access to a lawyer and the right to communicate with family members and employers.

Member states are responsible for making these improvements a reality. They should make sure the system is not undermined by multiple arrest warrants for offences that are not very serious, such as the theft of a bicycle. Before issuing a warrant, national judicial authorities should consider the seriousness of the offence, length of sentence and the costs and benefits of executing the warrant. The Commission will therefore take a number of steps, including calling on EU countries to fill gaps where their legislation is not fully aligned with the European arrest warrant framework decision.