Crime victims who are granted protection in one EU Member State will be able to get similar protection if they move to another, under new European Protection Order rules endorsed by the Civil Liberties and the Women's Rights Committees on Monday. Protection would be available to, for instance, victims of gender violence, harassment, abduction, stalking or attempted murder.

Measures to protect crime victims from aggressors already exist in all EU Member States but at present they cease to apply if the victim moves to another country. When it takes effect, the European Protection Order (EPO) will enable anyone protected under criminal law in one EU state to apply for similar protection if they move to another.

On Monday the Civil Liberties Women's Rights committees endorsed the final text agreed with national governments.

"The EPO directive is an important step in building a European area of justice, which will protect women who are threatened, by safeguarding their physical, psychological and sexual integrity and their dignity as they move within Europe. The need to protect victims and prevent new crimes must inspire European criminal law", said Civil Liberties Committee rapporteur Carmen Romero López (S&D, ES).

"Today is a great day for all victims of violence. A woman who has suffered gender violence and been granted protection against the offender in one Member State, will now be able to get the same protection in another EU country. This directive, which has come a long way, will soon be ready to provide real protection for victims across the EU. It is not just for victims of gender violence, but for all kinds of victims", added Women's Rights Committee rapporteur Teresa Jiménez-Becerril Barrio (EPP, ES).

The EPO directive was an initiative originally requested by 12 Member States and promoted by the EU's Spanish Presidency (first half of 2010).

All crime victims to be covered

MEPs sought from the outset to make it clearer that the rules should cover all victims of crime, not just victims of gender violence. Most protection measures are granted to female victims of gender violence but an EPO could cover victims of either sex and other crimes too.

The rules would apply to victims or possible victims who need protection "against a criminal act of another person which may, in any way, endanger his life, physical, psychological and sexual integrity […] as well as his dignity or personal liberty". Such acts would include harassment, abduction, stalking and "other forms of indirect coercion".

Keeping aggressors away

The agreed text says that once a person is granted protection in one Member State under domestic criminal law, s/he may request an EPO to extend this protection to another EU country to which s/he decides to move. It will be up to the Member State of origin to issue the EPO and forward it to the other country.

An EPO may be issued only if the aggressor is banned by the initial country from places where the protected person resides or which s/he visits, or if restrictions are imposed on contact or approaches by the aggressor to the protected person.

The person causing the danger should have a right to be heard and to challenge the EPO. However, in the notification of the aggressor or potential aggressor, "due regard should be taken to the interest of the protected person of not having his/her address or other contact details disclosed", stresses the text.

This directive would only apply to protection measures taken in criminal matters. However, due to differences among Member States' legal systems, the country to which the person moves may apply other kinds of measures (criminal, administrative or civil), provided they guarantee a similar level of protection.

Protecting victims' relatives

Thanks to MEPs, an EPO may also be requested to safeguard relatives of a beneficiary of a European Protection Order.

Wide protection for victims: new legislation to cover civil matters

The EPO in criminal matters will be complemented by separate legislation for civil matters. To that end, the Commission proposed in May 2011 a regulation on mutual recognition of protection afforded by civil law. The combination of the two instruments (the EPO directive and the regulation) should cover the broadest possible range of protection measures for victims issued in the Member States.

Next steps

Parliament is to vote on the final text at the December plenary session. Once formally adopted, Member States will have three years to transpose the new directive into national law.

Committee vote: 46 votes in favour and 2 against, no abstentions

Rapporteurs: Carmen Romero López (S&D, ES) and Teresa Jiménez-Becerril Barrio (EPP, ES)

Procedure: Co-decision, 2nd reading

In the chair: Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar (S&D, ES) & Mikael Gustaffsson (GUE/NGL, SE)