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European Commission


Brussels, 5 December 2012

Justice Council: 7 December 2012

European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on 6 and 7 December 2012. The Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner.

Main agenda items:

  • Reform of EU data protection rules

  • Tackling market abuse and rate-fixing

  • Fighting fraud against the EU budget

  • Clearer property rights for international couples

  • European Protection Order in civil matters

  • Recovering cross-border debts

  • EU drugs strategy

1. Data protection reform

The European Commission proposed a reform of the EU's data protection rules on 25 January (IP/12/46). The package contains a Regulation setting out a general EU framework for data protection and a Directive on protecting personal data processed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and related judicial activities.

What is expected at this Council? The Cypriot Presidency will present a progress report on both the Regulation and the Directive, summarising developments in Council discussions under their Presidency.

Commission position: The Commission welcomes the progress made under the Cypriot Presidency, in particular on the issues of administrative burdens, delegated and implementing acts and flexibility for the public sector. The Commission looks forward to finalising work on these issues and to continuing the current momentum in discussions under the forthcoming Irish Presidency.

Background: The current patchwork of 27 different and often contradictory data protection rules stands in the way of European businesses wanting to operate cross-border. The Commission's proposal for modernised and uniform data protection rules will remove barriers to market entry and lead to savings of about €2.3 billion per year.

2. Tackling market abuse and rate-fixing

In recent years, financial markets have become increasingly global, giving rise to new trading platforms and technologies. This has unfortunately also led to new possibilities to manipulate these markets. As part of its work to make financial markets more sound and transparent, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive (IP/11/1217) on insider dealing and market manipulation (i.e. market abuse). On 25 July, the Commission amended its proposal to include manipulation of benchmarks such as LIBOR and EURIBOR (IP/12/846).

What is expected at this Council? Ministers are expected to adopt a general approach on the draft Directive.

Commission position: The draft Directive is an important element in the EU's efforts to strengthen market integrity in the financial sector. The Commission supports the Cypriot Presidency’s objective of reaching a political agreement.

Background: In the recent LIBOR scandal, serious concerns have been raised about false submissions of banks' estimated interbank lending rates. Any actual or attempted manipulation of such key benchmarks can have a serious impact on market integrity, and could result in significant losses to consumers and investors, or distort the real economy. The European Commission acted to address this kind of market manipulation, by adopting amendments to the proposed Directive on insider dealing and market manipulation, including criminal sanctions.

3. Fighting fraud against the EU budget

Misuse of EU funds for criminal purposes puts the EU's objectives of generating jobs and growth and improving living conditions at stake. With public finances under pressure throughout the EU, every euro counts. The European Commission therefore proposed new rules on 11 July 2012 (IP/12/767) to fight fraud against the EU budget by means of criminal law to better safeguard taxpayers' money.

What is expected at this Council? The Cypriot Presidency will present the current state of play in discussions on the draft Directive.

Commission position: The proposal aims to better equip the EU to fight against fraud. The Commission is grateful to the Presidency for their commitment and looks forward to a timely adoption of the proposal.

Background: The proposed Directive creates a more harmonised framework for prosecuting and punishing crimes involving the EU budget so that criminals can no longer exploit differences between national legal systems. The Directive provides for common definitions of offences against the EU budget and for minimum sanctions, including imprisonment in serious cases, and for a common level playing field for periods within which it is possible to investigate and prosecute offences (known as statutes of limitation). This will help to deter fraudsters, provide for more effective legal action at national level and make it easier to recover lost funds.

4. Clearer property rights for international couples

In Europe, there are around 16 million international couples, both in marriages and registered partnerships. They face legal uncertainties and extra costs when dividing their property in cases of divorce, legal separation or death. Citizens lose time and money figuring out which law applies to their case and which court is competent to help them. Rules vary greatly between countries and sometimes lead to conflicting situations. Parallel legal proceedings in different countries, complex cases and the resulting legal fees cost an estimated €1.1 billion a year.

The European Commission proposed two EU Regulations to bring legal clarity to the property rights of international couples (IP/11/320). The first deals with married international couples and the second with registered partnerships with an international dimension.

What is expected at this Council? Ministers will hold an orientation debate and adopt political guidelines for future work on the two draft Regulations.

Commission position: The Commission supports the guidelines for future work. The two proposed Regulations would help identify which law applies to a couple's property rights and the responsible court. They would also provide for rules for recognising and enforcing court judgments on a couple's property in all EU Member States through a single procedure. The proposals only concern the property consequences of a marriage or registered partnership, not the recognition of civil status as such.

Background: The proposals are a deliverable of the Commission's October 2010 Citizenship Report (IP/10/1390 and MEMO/10/525), which outlined 25 major practical obstacles that Europeans still face in their daily lives. The proposals followed swift agreement on EU legislation to determine which country's rules apply in cross-border divorce cases (IP/10/347 and MEMO/10/695).

5. European Protection Order in civil matters

On 18 May 2011, the European Commission proposed a package of measures to ensure a minimum level of rights, support and protection for victims across the EU, no matter where they come from or live (IP/11/585). This included a proposal for a Regulation on mutual recognition of civil law protection measures. It will ensure that victims of violence (such as domestic violence) can still rely on restraint or protection orders issued against the perpetrator if they travel or move to another EU country and will complement the protection order in criminal matters.

What is expected at this Council? Ministers are expected to agree a general approach on the draft Regulation.

Commission position: The Commission welcomes the efforts by the Cypriot Presidency to move ahead with this proposal, which will provide protection for victims and help to tackle violence against women in particular.

Background: Protecting victims, wherever they find themselves in the EU, is crucial. Exercising one's freedom of movement should not result in a loss of that protection. At the moment, a protection order granted in one EU country does not offer protection in another, meaning that potential victims of violence can lose their judicial protection by crossing EU borders. The European Protection Order in civil matters is part of a package of measures to improve victims’ rights. The Directive on victims’ rights has already been adopted and published in the Official Journal (IP/12/1200).

6. Recovering cross-border debts

At the moment, it is up to national law to require a bank to pay the money from a client’s bank account to a creditor. The current situation in the 27 Member States is legally complicated, time consuming and expensive. Around 1 million small businesses face problems with cross-border debts and up to €600 million a year in debt is unnecessarily written off because businesses find it too daunting to pursue expensive, confusing lawsuits in foreign countries. On 25 July 2011, the Commission proposed a new Europe-wide preservation order to ease the recovery of cross-border debts for both citizens and businesses (IP/11/923).

What is expected at this Council? The Council will hold an orientation debate and is expected to take general political guidelines on the proposal.

Commission position: The Commission supports the general guidelines of the Presidency. The proposal aims to ease cross-border claims and provide more certainty to creditors in order to recover their debt while strengthening the EU's single market and economic recovery.

Background: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of European economies – making up 99% of businesses in the EU. Around 1 million of these face problems with cross-border debts. Procedures for recovering debts from another country's jurisdiction are complex, multiplying the costs for businesses that wish to trade across EU borders. Typical problems range from differences in national law to the costs of hiring an additional lawyer and translating documents. Individuals face similar difficulties when seeking to get their money back from a rogue trader or maintenance defaulter in another EU country.

6. EU Drugs Strategy

Illicit drugs constitute a complex problem for society and for public health, affecting millions of people in the EU. Tackling this phenomenon requires coordinated efforts, based on a long-term and integrated approach. The EU needs a multi-annual drugs strategy to define objectives and gather different national policies around a set of agreed principles.

What is expected at this Council? The Council will adopt an EU Drugs Strategy for 2013-2020.

Commission position: The Commission welcomes the adoption of the Strategy tabled by the Cypriot Presidency and will support the Irish Presidency in implementing it.

Background: The current EU Drugs Strategy for 2005-2012 expires at the end of 2012. The new Strategy will set out a coordinated approach between Member States in the EU.

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