New five-year plan for collaboration between EU member countries on judicial matters and internal security.
Consisting of 12 main proposals, the plan touches on areas as different as cybercrime, border control, asylum, and fair trials. It fleshes out the wide-ranging political objectives set out in the law-and-order agenda adopted by EU leaders in December. Unlike national agendas, the so-called Stockholm programme, which runs through 2014, looks at issues in justice and security from the perspective of all 500 million Europeans.
Although EU countries have strengthened cooperation on justice and security in recent decades, the diversity of legal traditions in the 27-nation union still often makes it hard for Europeans to live and work in EU countries other than their own. Many civil documents, for example, are not recognised across borders.
The plan aims to not only lower barriers like this but also to foster an EU-wide approach to issues that transcend national borders, like disaster response, immigration, organised crime and terrorism.
In line with the Stockholm programme's concern for privacy in the information age, the plan calls for overhauling EU data protection laws dating to 1995 and for negotiations with the US on sharing financial information for fighting terrorism. It includes proposals to criminalise identity theft and attacks on information systems.
Another priority is raising the standard of rights for the accused in criminal proceedings. Proposals will be introduced to give defendants more access to information, legal advice and aid. These are in addition to a proposal last month to provide interpreters and translators for suspects who do not speak the language of the court hearing their case.
The plan also calls for the development of an EU-wide protection order and comprehensive rules on victims' rights. Eurojust, a network of national prosecutors, magistrates and police officers that has existed since 1999, would be given the power to initiate investigations - not just cooperate in them. And a European public prosecutor's office might be created to deal with offences against the EU's financial interests, such as tax fraud.
Earlier this year, the commission proposed a greater role for Frontex, the European border control agency. This will be followed by proposals for a common asylum system and for automated border-crossing facilities for the passport-free Schengen area.
EU policies on justice and citizens' rights