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European Union: Adoption of General EU Criminal Policy on Euro-Crimes

(Sept. 26, 2011) On September 20, 2011, the European Commission adopted a communication that establishes the new legislative authority of the Commission, granted by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, to introduce directives regulating what are called Euro-crimes, including fraud, terrorism, and other crimes. This communication is the first step in the Commission's efforts to explore options and measures to ensure effective implementation of European Union policies by means of criminal law. (Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Towards an EU Criminal Policy: Ensuring the Effective Implementation of EU Policies Through Criminal Law [hereinafter Communication], COM(2011) 573 final (Sept. 20, 2011); Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, art. 83, 2010 OFFICAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION (C 83 ) 47 (Mar. 30, 2010).)

Traditionally, criminal law is a field that belongs to the domain of the individual EU Members. However, article 83 of the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 provided competence to the Commission to initiate proposals in the area of criminal procedure and substantive criminal law. Thus, the Commission has the power to adopt directives that establish minimum rules concerning the definitions of and sanctions for ten offenses. These offenses are: terrorism, trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug trafficking, illicit arms trafficking, money laundering, corruption, counterfeiting of means of payment, computer crime, and organized crime. (Lisbon Treaty, supra.)

The Lisbon Treaty provides that draft directives on the above offenses must follow the usual legislative procedure, which involves the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, and full judicial review by the European Court of Justice. If a draft directive affects the fundamental criminal system of an EU Member, that Member has the right to suspend the legislative procedure and refer the matter to the European Council for further review. (Id.)

It is anticipated that the Commission's competence to harmonize minimum standards for the above offenses will result in a number of positive outcomes, such as enhancing European citizens' trust and confidence in the judicial systems of EU Members; satisfying citizens' demands for EU action to combat serious crime; ensuring that criminals will not seek refuge in a Member State in which the criminal system provides more lenient punishment than where the crime was committed; and ensuring the effective implementation of EU policies on environmental protection, road transport safety, fisheries regulation, protection of the EU's financial interests, financial sector, data protection and others. (Communication, supra.)