Politics & Economics

EU Justice ministers set to speed up on new rules against sexual abuses

June 2024
By Editorial Staff

The last EU Justice Council under the Belgian presidency semester has made room for a debate on the update of the legislation against sexual exploitation of children and children sexual abuse material. The 27 EU ministers gave guidance to the future work at expert level on a broader limitation period for such offences and exchange views on ways to ensure that AI-generated child sexual abuse material is made as much punishable as cases in the offline world.

Most of the ministers shared the view that this type of heinous crime justifies specific rules on long limitation periods after the victim has reached the age of majority. Some of them have eliminated the statute of limitations. Others advocate to modify the proposed periods. Views on the method are diverged, but the Belgian presidency boasts of the clear message given to criminalise images of sexual abuse generated by AI-tools in the same manner as images depicting real children.

The regulation proposed by the European Commission will find new impetus when the new European Parliament will take office. The two co-legislators will adopt their position on the bill and reach a compromise on a final text.

A policy debate was held also on the principle of recognition in all Member States of the parenthood of a child which has been established in any other EU member. The regulation proposed by the Commission is addressed to the 2 million children facing problems with their families when travelling or moving to another EU country. The focus was set on status of children conceived through surrogacy and the discussion was oriented on the goal to move forward in the negotiations of the proposal. Vice president of the European Commission Vera Jourova claimed during a press conference that “it is important to introduce the strong principle that if you are parent in one country you are parent in every country and all children regardless of how they were born should enjoy of full parental rights”.

Ministers also adopted their negotiating position on other legislative files. Discussion with the Parliament will concern the directive that sets minimum standards for the definition and sanctioning of corruption offences, preventive measures and rules for more effective investigation and prosecution. For the first time at EU level, it brings together in one legal act rules on corruption in the public and private sectors. A common EU definition is established for bribery in the public and private sectors, misappropriation, trading in influence, obstruction of justice and enrichment from corruption offences. EU countries are called to put in place “effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties to sanction these crimes”.

Member States are urged to raise public awareness on social damages caused by corruption and create bodies tasked with prevention and repression activities. Criminal offences that will become illegal under EU law will be punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of at least two to four years, depending on the offence. People convicted for corruption offences may incur additional penalties such as fines, removal from public office, disqualification from holding public office or exercising a public service function, the withdrawal of permits and exclusion from access to tender procedures and public funds. The directive introduces penalties in the form of fines ranging from at least 3% to 5% of a total worldwide turnover or at least €24 or €40 million depending on the offence.

Ministers also made a first step towards the revision of the directive of 2012 to update victims’ rights rules. The new legislation has been proposed by the Commission to make sure that all member states take action to report criminal offences through easily accessible, user-friendly information and communication technologies. Victims should be contacted by the relevant general or specialist support services if an individual assessment reveals a need for support. This will, however, require the victim to consent or request that support. They would be granted also with general information on the organizational aspects of the trial phase in criminal court proceedings and emotional support on the court premises. Member states have decided to put in place an easily accessible, user friendly, free of charge and confidential victim helpline which will be reachable through an EU-wide harmonised phone number, 116 006. Member states may also choose to provide the helpline service through other means (such as live chats).

Ministers also agreed on a negotiation mandate on a regulation laying down additional procedural rules to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Without modifying the law, the new rules aim to streamline cooperation between data protection authorities in the enforcement of the GDPR in cross-border cases. They will harmonise the procedural steps and the rights of the parties and the complainant at EU level taking into account the procedural autonomy of member states. A new procedure for the early resolution of complaints and a lighter procedure for more straightforward cases are introduced to speed up decision making in cross-border cases.