EU’s Reding to push for criminal and civil law reform

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Cross-border crimes, such as money laundering or counterfeiting, should be defined in the same way across all EU countries, according to the bloc's new Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who will outline her long-term ambitions at a conference in Brussels today (18 March).

For the next five years, Reding will try to harmonise definitions and sanctions for crimes "with a clear cross-border nature" to ensure that criminals do not escape sanctions when moving countries.

Reding is expected to underline the issue today in a speech at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think-tank.

Human trafficking, cyber crime, money laundering and counterfeiting already feature on a provisional list of crimes for which the commissioner is considering EU-level harmonisation.

Enhanced cooperation on marriage law

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg commissioner is also pushing for new rules on cross-border marriages and reform of data protection and consumer laws.

There are around 350,000 cross-border couples in Europe today and legislative reform is necessary to deal with divorce issues, Reding believes.

In case of divorce, the applicable law is that taken up by the partner who is quickest to act, with possible negative consequences for the partner left behind. Under Reding's plans, the applicable legislation should simply be that of the couple's country of residence, to eliminate legal vagueness.

The proposal is not new and was tabled by the European Commission in 2006. Sweden and some Eastern European countries are particularly opposed to the idea.

Reding is therefore ready to propose applying the so-called 'enhanced cooperation' mechanism contained in the EU treaty, but which has not been applied so far. The mechanism allows a group of at least nine member states to go ahead with the integration process on a specific issue, leaving the others free to join later if they wish.

Fundamental rights

Commissioner Reding has already underlined in many occasions her strong stance in favour of fundamental rights protection ,and she is committed to raising public awareness across the EU.

"When I was young, it was normal to see beaten women walking around by night with their children and being mocked by men, instead of receiving aid. Now this is not the case any more, and everybody is aware of the problem of family violence. I will make sure that other less protected fundamental rights will have their due recognition," Reding said this week during an informal meeting with journalists.

E-commerce, data protection and copyright

Reding will also stick to some of the dossiers she tackled in her previous information society portfolio. In particular, she intends to push for the application of the highest level of consumer protection in e-commerce, which she said has the potential to create a genuine borderless European market.

Reform of data protection legislation (EURACTIV 26/01/10) and finding the right balance between copyright and Internet freedom will remain among her top priorities.

However, it remains to be seen what position she will take in her new role as EU fundamental rights chief. On the Internet, a highly sensitive battle is raging between content producers – of music, movies, etc. – and Web users, who are used to accessing content for free on the grounds of their right to access information.

For how long?

Reding has a track-record of pushing citizens and consumer interests ahead of those of industry. She has attracted criticism for following a populist agenda, for example when she decided cap the price of mobile phone calls made across EU borders (the roaming regulation). Many therefore expect her to do the same during her new mandate.

However, it remains unclear how long she will stay in her new role. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker will step down in two-and-a-half years' time and Reding is already reported to be eyeing that position.

Background

The justice and home affairs portfolio, once under the sole control of French Commissioner Jacques Barrot, has now been split into two new jobs: one for home affairs and one for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship.

The latter portfolio was awarded to Viviane Reding, the Luxembourg commissioner who held the information society portfolio in the Barroso I Commission (2004-2009).

Commission President José Manuel Barroso believes the new portfolio will go some way towards resolving problems within the EU executive's current justice and home affairs (JHA) directorate. It is also viewed by many as Barroso's gift to the European liberals. 

The new portfolio will encompass policy areas such as the free movement of citizens, family law, penal law, gender equality and anti-discrimination legislation, but also consumer rights and EU communication policy. Three directorates-general will work for the justice commissioner: Justice, Employment and Communication.  

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