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European Commission

Press release

Strasbourg, 5 February 2013

European Commission strengthens the protection of the euro by means of criminal law

The European Commission has today proposed to crack down on criminals who counterfeit euro notes and coins. Counterfeiting of the euro is estimated to have cost at least €500 million since the currency was introduced in 2002. The proposal aims to strengthen the protection of the euro and other currencies against counterfeiting through criminal law measures. These include strengthening cross-border investigations and introducing minimum penalties, including imprisonment, for the most serious counterfeiting offences. The proposal will also enable the analysis of seized forgeries during judicial proceedings in order to detect further counterfeit euros in circulation.

Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner, said: "European citizens and businesses trust the authenticity of banknotes and coins. But this is not a given. The euro is the world’s second most important currency and we will take all necessary steps to stop it from being targeted by criminals. With today's proposal, we are reinforcing the fight against forged currencies with dissuasive criminal sanctions and more efficient investigative measures. Counterfeiting of currency by organised criminals undermines public confidence in the currency and impacts heavily on governments, business and individuals alike. Those responsible must not go unpunished – it is time we close regulatory loopholes to put a stop to counterfeiting across the European Union."

Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Audit and Anti-Fraud, said: "The euro is one of the EU's most valuable assets. But if we don't fight collectively to protect it, nobody else will. A currency shared by 17 countries and 330 million people is an attractive target for criminals. So we must make sure that crime doesn't pay. A more harmonised approach to sanctions and better cross-border cooperation will help us to come down hard on currency counterfeiting."

The Directive, which is a joint initiative of Vice-President Reding, Vice-President Rehn, Commissioner Šemeta, will oblige Member States to make effective investigative tools available for detecting currency counterfeiting cases, equivalent to those used to combat organised or other serious crime. The Commission is proposing that a minimum penalty of at least six months imprisonment be introduced for serious cases of production and distribution of counterfeit currency. And a maximum penalty of at least eight years would be introduced for the offence of distribution (as already applies today for the offence of production according to Council Framework Decision 200/383/JHA). This will strengthen the protection of the euro by better deterring crimes across the Union and improving cooperation between judicial authorities, to help catch fraudsters.

Finally, the Directive will require Member States to ensure that the National Analysis Centres and the National Coin Analysis Centres are also able to examine euro counterfeits during on-going judicial proceedings to enable the detection of further counterfeit euros in circulation.

Background

In total, there are around € 913 billion worth of euro notes in circulation around the world and 16 billion worth of euro coins.

The euro and other currencies continue to be targeted by organised crime groups active in money forgery. Since its introduction in 2002, counterfeiting of the euro has led to financial damage amounting to at least 500 million. This is illustrated by the seizure of large amounts of counterfeit euro notes and coins and the continuous dismantling of illegal print-shops and mints each year within and outside the European Union. These developments show that the current measures against counterfeiting are insufficient and, therefore, that an improved protection of the euro is needed at European level. 280,000 counterfeit euro banknotes were withdrawn from circulation in the second semester of 2012.

According to the latest figures from the European Central Bank, the € 20 and € 50 denomination banknotes are the most counterfeited. The majority (97.5%) of counterfeits recovered in the second half of 2012 were found in euro area countries, with only around 2% being found in EU Member States outside the euro area and 0.5% being found in other parts of the world.

The proposed Directive builds on and replaces Council Framework Decision 2000/383/JHA on increasing the protection, by criminal penalties and other sanctions, against counterfeiting in connection with the introduction of the euro. The Directive maintains most of the provisions of the Framework Decision(in particular preserving the definitions of the offences laid down) whilst taking into account novelties introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, which reinforced the EU's capacity to combat fraud by giving it the competence to legislate in the area of criminal law. According to the International Convention for the Suppression of Counterfeiting Currency of 1929 (Geneva Convention), enhanced protection of the euro should also apply to other currencies. The Directive supplements the provisions of the Geneva Convention and facilitates its application in the European Union.

On 10 January 2013 the European Central Bank unveiled the new €5 banknote. The €5 banknote is the first banknote in the Europa series to be introduced and will be issued on 2 May 2013 across the euro area. The euro banknotes and coins have, since entering into circulation in 2002 become a visible symbol of European integration.

For more information

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner: http://ec.europa.eu/reding

Homepage of Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta:

http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/semeta/index_en.htm

European Commission – criminal law policy:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/criminal-law-policy/index_en.htm

Memo/13/63

For the legislative text, see:

http://ec.europa.eu/anti_fraud/euro-protection/legislation/index_en.htm

Contacts :

Emer Traynor (+32 2 292 15 48)

Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)

Natasja Bohez Rubiano (+32 2 296 64 70)

Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)


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