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Brussels, 16 April 2014
Every euro counts: European Parliament says 'yes' to new rules to fight fraud and euro counterfeiting
The European Parliament plenary has today voted in favour of two initiatives from the European Commission that will help protect the euro against counterfeiting and combat fraud against the EU budget. The Parliament backed measures which will strengthen the protection of the euro and other currencies against counterfeiting through criminal law measures (IP/13/88). The European Parliament also voted in a first reading in favour of a Directive to tackle fraud (IP/12/767), which will create a more harmonised framework for prosecuting and punishing crimes involving the EU budget.
"Today marks a good day for honest businesses and citizens and for our EU budget. The new rules that Parliament just voted will strengthen confidence in our most valuable assets: the euro and our European budget. If we don't take action to protect these two common goods, nobody else will" said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner and Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner responsible for anti-fraud. "Both Directives agreed on today mark a strong and unified response to protecting our currency and clamping down on criminals that want to pocket EU taxpayers' money. We would like to thank the European Parliament, especially its rapporteurs, Anthea McIntyre, Ingeborg Gräßle and Juan Fernando López Aguilar, and the Greek Presidency for their excellent work which made the adoption of these legislative texts possible."
1. Stronger sanctions and cross-border investigations to prevent counterfeiting
The European Parliament today endorsed the key elements of the Commission's proposal to strengthen the protection of the euro and other currencies through criminal law measures (IP/13/88). Since the euro was introduced in 2002, counterfeiting is estimated to have cost the EU at least EUR €500 million. The new legislation will help tackle counterfeiting by ensuring that effective and deterrent sanctions are applied across Europe. There will also be new measures to strengthen cross-border investigations.
Every year in the EU, large amounts of forged euro notes and coins are seized and illegal print shops and mints are dismantled within and outside the European Union. Recent figures published by the European Commission show that a total of 175 900 fake euro coins were withdrawn from circulation last year, while according to the latest figures from the European Central Bank, 353 000 counterfeit euro banknotes were withdrawn in the second half of 2013 alone.
This new EU law will introduce common maximum penalties for the most serious counterfeiting offences: imprisonment of at least eight years for production and five years for distribution. Cross-border investigations will be strengthened by ensuring that investigative tools provided for in national law for organised crime or serious cases can also be used in cases of counterfeiting of currency. The law will also enable an early analysis of seized forgeries during judicial proceedings in order to better detect counterfeit euros in circulation and to prevent their circulation.
Next steps: Today's vote follows the political agreement reached with the Council in the trilogue on 12 February 2014, which was confirmed by Member States' representatives on 19 February 2014 (MEMO 14/123), and the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on 20 February 2014. The Directive must now be formally adopted by the Council of Ministers in one of their next meetings. After publication of the Directive in the Official Journal, expected in June 2014, Member States will have two years to implement the Directive in national law.
2. Fighting fraud to ensure correct spending of EU funds
As we are getting out of the economic crisis, public finances are still under scrutiny throughout the EU, and so every euro counts. The correct use of EU funds is paramount to generating more jobs and growth. Today, the European Parliament endorsed the Commission's proposal for new rules to fight fraud against the EU budget by means of criminal law (IP/12/767) to better protect taxpayers' money.
Currently, there is a wide variety of approaches to the protection of EU funds across Member States. The interpretation of what constitutes fraud to the EU budget differs from one country to another, as do the penalties. For example, the level of sanctions for fraud varies across the European Union from no mandatory sentence for fraud to 12 years imprisonment. Equally the time within which it is possible to investigate and prosecute offences varies widely, ranging from 1 to 12 years.
The EU-wide rules endorsed today by the European Parliament will introduce new common definitions of fraud. This will ensure that fraud against the EU budget is considered a crime everywhere in the EU. The rules will provide sanctions for fraud against the EU budget, including imprisonment, and there will be a level-playing field for periods within which it is possible to investigate and prosecute offences. This will help deter fraudsters, providing more effective legal action at national level and facilitating the recovery of lost funds.
The proposed Directive is integral to the functioning of the proposed European Public Prosecutor's Office, which the European Parliament recently endorsed (MEMO/14/183). The Directive will set out the offences that the European Public Prosecutor's Office may investigate and prosecute, thus helping to reduce the misuse of EU taxpayers' money.
Next steps: The European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) backed the Commission's proposal with an overwhelming majority in March 2014 (MEMO/14/203). Following todays' approval from the European Parliament, the law will be adopted once the Council, acting by a qualified majority, approves all Parliament amendments.
For more information
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice: http://ec.europa.eu/reding
Homepage of Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/semeta/index_en.htm
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
Follow Commissioner Šemeta on Twitter: @ASemetaEU
Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice
European Commission – criminal law policy: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/criminal-law-policy/index_en.htm