Judicial authorities asking their colleagues in another EU country to carry out investigations there, e.g. by searching houses or interviewing witnesses, should get a faster and more favourable response thanks to the new "European Investigation Order" rules approved by Parliament on Thursday. In a separate vote, MEPs also called for an overhaul of “European Arrest Warrant" rules which govern the extradition of suspects within the EU.

"This instrument will allow effective prosecution across borders of crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking or corruption. It will also guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms", said Nuno Melo (EPP, PT), rapporteur on the European Investigation Order (EIO) directive, which was passed by 467 votes to 22, with 10 abstentions.

"The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) could be called the euro of the justice and home affairs world. It is a very good idea, but it was launched without the support and safeguards necessary to make it strong and sustainable. (...) The operation of the EAW needs to be improved", said Sarah Ludford (ALDE, UK), rapporteur on the EAW resolution, which was passed by 495 votes to 51, with 11 abstentions.

Stricter deadlines

The EIO aims to make it easier for judicial authorities to request investigative measures and thereby obtain evidence in another EU country. Under the new rules, member states would have up to 30 days to decide whether or not to accept an EIO request. If accepted, there would then be a 90-day deadline for conducting the requested investigative measure. Any delay would have to be reported to the EU country issuing the EIO.

Limited grounds for refusal

An EIO request could be refused only on specific grounds, e.g. if it could harm essential national security interests. It could also be refused if existing rules that restrict criminal liability to safeguard press freedom would make it impossible to execute it. Furthermore, MEPs inserted several provisions to protect suspects’ fundamental rights. For example, member states' authorities may refuse an EIO request if they believe it would be incompatible with their fundamental rights obligations.

To enter into force, the EIO directive still needs for be formally endorsed by the Council of Ministers. Once approved, member states will have three years to transpose it into their national laws. The UK will take part in the EIO arrangements, but Ireland and Denmark will not.

Overhauling the European Arrest Warrant

In a separate vote, Parliament called on the European Commission to table within a year legislative proposals to review the EAW rules. A resolution drafted by Ms Ludford sets out detailed recommendations for the reform. Despite its success in speeding up surrender procedures, MEPs say the system needs to be overhauled to better protect the procedural rights of suspected and accused persons, improve detention conditions, and prevent alleged overuse of EAWs by some member states. Between 2005 and 2009 54,689 EAWs were issued but only 11,630 were executed.

Procedure:  Co-decision, first reading agreement (Melo) / Initiative pursuant to TFEU Article 225 (Ludford)