Using criminal law to support growth

In 2010 €600 million worth of suspected fraud were reported by Member States from the EU money they manage

Photo: Pho­to: Inter­net The spe­cial coun­ter­feit anal­y­sis cen­trers pro­vide detailed infor­ma­tion, such as infor­ma­tion on the tech­niques used by coun­ter­feit­ers to imi­tate secu­ri­ty fea­tures.

We are at a del­i­cate junc­ture of Euro­pe­an inte­gra­tion. The cri­sis has trig­gered a nec­es­sa­ry debate about where we stand in Europe and where we are head­ed. Europe is at a cross­roads at the moment. I am con­vinced that the cur­rent cri­sis will lead to a strong­er Euro­pe­an Union than the one we have today: a strong­er Eco­nom­ic and Mon­e­tary Union and a full Polit­i­cal Union. A Union that is at the serv­ice of the cit­i­zens, and puts the fun­da­men­tal rights of cit­i­zens even more at the heart of all its activ­i­ties.

We are at a del­i­cate junc­ture of Euro­pe­an inte­gra­tion. The cri­sis has trig­gered a nec­es­sa­ry debate about where we stand in Europe and where we are head­ed. Europe is at a cross­roads at the moment. I am con­vinced that the cur­rent cri­sis will lead to a strong­er Euro­pe­an Union than the one we have today: a strong­er Eco­nom­ic and Mon­e­tary Union and a full Polit­i­cal Union. A Union that is at the serv­ice of the cit­i­zens, and puts the fun­da­men­tal rights of cit­i­zens even more at the heart of all its activ­i­ties.
To achieve the goal of a strong­er Union we need to build a bridge to the future: a bridge to bring the nec­es­sa­ry solid­i­ty and con­fi­dence about how Europe will be gov­erned in 2020.
It is there­fore impor­tant that we pay utmost atten­tion to the clear legal and dem­o­crat­ic lim­its of EU action in this field.
Euro­pe­an Union crim­i­nal law must be devel­oped on a sol­id bed of fun­da­men­tal rights, and nota­bly of fair tri­al rights. It must also be devel­oped in agree­ment with the Euro­pe­an Par­lia­ment, in close con­tact with the nation­al Par­lia­ments and in respect of the dif­fer­ent legal sys­tems and tra­di­tions of all our Mem­ber States.
The Trea­ty of Lis­bon and the legal­ly bind­ing Char­ter of Fun­da­men­tal of Rights have made us bet­ter equipped to fight cross-bor­der crime with crim­i­nal law. The Com­mis­sion pro­pos­es leg­is­la­tion; the Euro­pe­an Par­lia­ment and the Coun­cil are co-leg­is­la­tors; nation­al Par­lia­ments scru­ti­nise the respect of sub­sid­i­ar­i­ty and all this is sub­ject to judi­cial review by the Court of Jus­tice. With the Trea­ty of Lis­bon, the Euro­pe­an Com­mis­sion can also play its role as guard­i­an of the Trea­ty ful­ly. Accord­ing­ly we will make sure that Mem­ber States cor­rect­ly trans­pose what they agree to and when nec­es­sa­ry we will ensure this by way of infringe­ment pro­ceed­ings.
At Euro­pe­an Union lev­el, dif­fer­en­ces amongst the nation­al sys­tems remain sub­stan­tial. This is the case when it comes to types and lev­els of sanc­tions as well as the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of cer­tain con­ducts as an admin­is­tra­tive or crim­i­nal offence. Action at the lev­el of the Euro­pe­an Union must there­fore tack­le gaps to ensure that crim­i­nals can nei­ther hide behind bor­ders nor abuse dif­fer­en­ces between nation­al legal sys­tems.
I see three are­as of pri­or­i­ties where the Com­mis­sion expects you to focus your work.
First, the fight against fraud affect­ing the finan­cial inter­ests of the Euro­pe­an Union to ensure that tax­pay­er's mon­ey is pro­tect­ed to an equiv­a­lent degree across the Union. In 2010, €600 mil­lion worth of sus­pect­ed fraud were report­ed by Mem­ber States from the EU mon­ey they man­age. Effect­ive­ly pro­tect­ing the EU budg­et means ensur­ing that tax­pay­ers' mon­ey is only used to pro­mote growth and sol­i­dar­i­ty in Europe. EU mon­ey should not be pock­et­ed by crim­i­nals. Pro­tect­ing EU mon­ey requires com­mon crim­i­nal law rules. And we need to ensure that such rules are of the highest stand­ard. We are pre­par­ing pro­pos­als to mod­ern­ise the pre-Lis­bon rules on com­mon def­i­ni­tions, jur­is­dic­tion and lim­i­ta­tion peri­ods. This will also be a first step towards pre­par­ing future pro­pos­als on estab­lish­ing a Euro­pe­an Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tor's Office in line with the ambi­tions of the Trea­ty of Lis­bon. The aim is clear: to ensure that fraud to the EU budg­et does not go unpun­ished.
Sec­ond, we also need you to work on strength­en­ing the rules pro­tect­ing the euro against coun­ter­feit­ing through crim­i­nal law. This is essen­tial to strength­en the pub­lic's trust in the secu­ri­ty of means of pay­ment in the com­mon cur­ren­cy of the Euro­pe­an Union - our cur­ren­cy - and a cur­ren­cy that is irre­vers­i­ble and for­ev­er.
Third, I would also like to hear from you on the are­as where crim­i­nal law can con­trib­ute to growth and to the eco­nom­ic recov­ery. Crim­i­nal law can help tack­le the ille­gal econ­o­my and finan­cial crim­i­nal­i­ty. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant when we use crim­i­nal law as a nec­es­sa­ry tool to ensure effect­ive enforce­ment of Euro­pe­an pol­i­cies and laws. This is why, last Novem­ber, I pre­sent­ed min­i­mum rules on crim­i­nal offen­ces and on crim­i­nal sanc­tions for mar­ket abuse. These can help ensure the effect­ive­ness of Union pol­i­cy on finan­cial mar­kets. Crim­i­nal con­vic­tions for mar­ket abuse offen­ces also help to improve deter­rence as they dem­on­strate to poten­tial offend­ers that the author­i­ties take enforce­ment actions seri­ous­ly and that these can result in impris­on­ment or oth­er crim­i­nal sanc­tions as well as a crim­i­nal record. These are exam­ples of how crim­i­nal law can help deter mon­ey from fuel­ling crim­i­nal activ­i­ty. (con­cise)
Speech by Viv­i­a­ne Red­ing, Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pe­an Com­mis­sion, EU Jus­tice Com­mis­sion­er at the Inau­gu­ral meet­ing of the Expert Group on EU Crim­i­nal Pol­i­cy,  Brus­sels, 19 June 2012

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