The European Commission will propose today (18 May) a package of measures aimed at boosting the protection of the 30 million citizens who every year fall victims of crime in the European Union.
If a German citizen is robbed in Greece or an Italian family is involved in a road accident in Sweden, their rights as victims are not always as protected as they would be in their country of origin.
Despite clear indications from European jurisprudence (see 'Background'), discrimination of victims on the basis of their nationality is still commonplace in the European Union.
Foreign victims can face unjustified obstacles to obtaining fair compensation, or might be left without proper support and protection. Indeed, even when local rules envisage protection of their rights, foreign victims could still feel marginalised by language and cultural barriers.
"The risk is that victims are victimised twice," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told EURACTIV.
The Commission believes the phenomenon can have huge economic consequences. On average, crime costs the EU almost €250 billion a year. But the bill can get even higher. A badly treated victim can cost much more to society in terms of extra medical care and days off work.
When victims are not properly taken care of, they also tend to prolong their convalescence phase and to deeply involve people close to them, bringing the number of total victims (direct and indirect) to over 75 million a year, according to the EU executive.
To tackle this situation, the Commission is today unveiling two fresh pieces of legislation. The first and more comprehensive part is a directive on minimum standards for victims.
National legislation is not harmonised on civil and criminal matters, giving citizens a rude awakening when they are most in need, in that some of their rights are not properly taken into account in another EU country.
In particular, "the role and needs of victims in criminal proceedings are still not fully addressed in national judicial systems," reads the Commission proposal, obtained by EURACTIV.
The new directive would instead provide a set of common rules to be enforced in all 27 member states. For instance, victims of crime should decide whether or not to participate in any trial, and should get support in "a way they can understand" wherever they are.
The EU executive will also propose a new regulation on mutual recognition of civil law protection measures. This will be particularly handy for those who benefit from protection in a member state but risk not having those provisions recognised when travelling abroad.
A victim of stalking for instance, could find themselves at risk while on holiday simply because protection measures are not equally recognised across the EU.
The regulation aims to bring to an end such loopholes. A similar move was proposed for criminal matters in 2009 and is now being discussed by the EU institutions.
Later in her mandate, Commissioner Reding also plans to address the issue of compensation of foreign victims, which sometimes entails such a long process that victims give up exercising their rights.
New rules are also in the pipeline to increase the protection of the rights of victims of road accidents. The Commission estimates that every year in Europe, one million accidents cause around 40,000 deaths and many more injuries.