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Blueprint for EU policy on criminal law - 21/09/2011

Gavel and book of law © iStock/Natalia Lukiyanova

New plan will help protect citizens through effective implementation of EU-wide rules and define what violations should be considered as criminal offences.

Citizens rank tackling crime as one of their top priorities when asked what policy-makers can do to strengthen the EU.

But despite efforts over the last decade, changes to European criminal law have been less than coherent and are not always properly implemented.

New legal framework

Thanks to the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, the EU can use criminal law to better enforce its policies and rules to protect citizens. The role of the EU institutions and national parliaments has been strengthened, and full judicial oversight has been granted to the European Court of Justice.

With crime costing society an estimated €233 billion a year, a clear strategy is vital to protect citizens. Greater cooperation on criminal law can help define rules on what violations should be considered as criminal offences, and provide for minimum standards on sanctions.

Guidance for member countries

The strategy sets out how the Union and member countries can work together to put in place a coherent and consistent EU criminal policy.

Common principles can help make EU rules more effective against financial market manipulation, environmental damage and help protect EU taxpayers from fraud, for example.

Criteria for EU countries to follow include:

  • criminal law must remain a measure of last resort
  • sanctions should be limited to particularly serious offences
  • new criminal-law measures must respect fundamental rights
  • decisions on criminal-law measures or sanctions must be backed up by clear factual evidence, proportionate to the crime and taken at local, national or EU level as appropriate.

Fighting cross-border crime

With many criminals operating across borders, common measures are vital to stop them from taking advantage of Europe's passport-free area to escape the law or exploiting differences between national legal systems.

EU-wide minimum rules on criminal law can provide added value to help protect citizens, particularly those who travel and work in different countries – while reflecting national values, customs and choices.

More on EU criminal-law policy

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