Five Key Achievements of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU in the Area of Justice

13 January 2014, Last updated at, 14:13 EET
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author: Council © European Union

A number of agreements in the area of justice which are significant for EU citizens were concluded during the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) in the second half of last year. Some agreements will accelerate investigations, other will enable a more efficient fight against counterfeiting, and better protection of the rights of those seeking debt recovery from the citizens living in other countries.

Achievement No 1: better protection of the euro

One of the major agreements in the second half of last year was the agreement on the Directive on the Legal Protection of the Euro and Other Currencies Against Counterfeiting. It is particularly important for Lithuania, which is planning to introduce the euro at the beginning of the coming year.

The assessment of the current situation by the European Commission has shown that euro counterfeiting and forgery is one of the most common offences of the organised crime. Euro-counterfeiting causes enormous financial harm, which according to minimum calculations amounts to EUR 500 million, while the primary victims of euro counterfeiting are honest EU citizens and businesses.

“This Directive defines the main offences related to the counterfeiting of the euro and other currencies, and the dissemination of counterfeit currency, which are to be criminalised by Member States. Ensuring the principle that “crime does not pay”, Members States will apply effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions on natural and legal persons,” states the Lithuanian Minister of Justice, Juozas Bernatonis.

For example, it was agreed that for the offence of the fraudulent production or altering of currency, Member States will apply a maximum penalty of at least 8 years imprisonment. The fraudulent release of counterfeit currency in circulation will be punished by applying a maximum penalty of at least 5 years imprisonment.

Achievement No 2: easier cross-border debt recovery

A creditor seeking to ensure debt recovery in another Member State currently faces a number of difficulties. The conditions for issuing orders to preserve assets in bank accounts under national law vary considerably throughout the EU, and the costs of obtaining and enforcing an account preservation order in a cross-border situation are generally higher than in domestic cases.

The European Account Preservation Order will allow the application of temporary protective measures to debtors’ accounts in other EU countries. The temporary arrest of accounts will facilitate cross-border debt recovery for citizens and businesses, foremost for small- and medium-sized enterprises, and efficiency in enforcing judgments in civil and commercial matters will improve.

“This temporary protective measure will allow a proper balance to be found between the interests of a creditor and debtor,” emphasises the Lithuanian Minister of Justice.

Achievement No 3: easier confiscation of crime-related assets

During the Lithuanian Presidency, the Council and the European Parliament (EP) successfully finalised negotiations on the Directive on Confiscation of Crime-Related Assets and Recovery to the EU.

The Directive establishes the duty to confiscate the proceeds of crime, substances and instrumentalities, when convictions are imposed for the criminal offences provided in the Directive. The Directive also requires the confiscation of the proceeds of crime and instrumentalities in cases without court conviction when an offender cannot be prosecuted due to illness or flight.

“This is the first time that all the countries agreed at the EU level on a common list of offences and the level of penalties, when courts must consider whether an extended confiscation is applicable to the offender, which is a full or partial confiscation of the offender’s assets, when the court has reason to believe that it is also crime-related,” states Mr Bernatonis.

According to this Directive, the court making a conviction will also have to examine the possibility of extended confiscation, when the offender is charged with active or passive corruption, child pornography production or dissemination, and other offences listed in the present Directive, as well as the offences punished by at least 4 years imprisonment in accordance with the corresponding EU legal acts and national criminal laws.

Achievement No 4: faster investigation of crimes committed in the EU

The Council and the EP also reached a long awaited agreement concerning the Directive on the European Investigation Order. To date, the cooperation of EU Member States on criminal cases has not always been successful: in the absence of established terms, written communication between certain EU countries used to take considerable time, and countries looking for assistance sometimes received no answers at all.

“The European Investigation Order has created a unified evidence gathering system for criminal cases based on the mutual recognition principle, which should simplify and accelerate the cooperation so extremely necessary for successful criminal investigations,” says the Lithuanian Minister of Justice .

In accordance with this Directive, competent authorities will be able to issue a European Investigation Order for various investigation measures. Having received a European Investigation Order, the competent authority of the EU country will have to implement it within the terms indicated in the Directive, while refusal to reply can be accepted only in accordance with the list of grounds provided in the Directive.

Achievement No 5: creation of favourable conditions for innovation development

During the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU, agreement was reached on modifications to the ‘Brussels I’ Regulation. In July the provided proposal was expected to ensure the Unified Patent Court Agreement, and coordination of the ‘Brussels I’ Regulation creating the legal requirements to enforce the patent package.

The patent package comprises a unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court. Through the assistance of the unitary package, it will be possible to gain patent protection in all EU Member States participating in the system by submitting one patent application.

Any disputes related to future patents and current European patents will be examined at the Unified Patent Court. Patent-related disputes are currently examined at national courts.

“The opportunities provided by the patent package will facilitate the access of businesses to the patent system, and will simplify patent-related dispute resolution. This will contribute to favourable conditions for the internal market and innovation development in the European Union, and the improvement of Europeans’ economic status,” emphasises Mr Bernatonis.


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