Since the Maastricht Treaty, the member states have devoted much common effort to fighting cross-border crime and terrorism without undermining the fundamental rights and freedoms of EU citizens. The European Police Office (Europol), whose establishment was already agreed under the TEU, began operating in 1994 in the form of the Europol Drugs Unit. After ratification of the Europol Convention by all member states, it commenced its full activities on 1 July 1999. Other European prosecution instruments are the European Judicial Network (EJN) launched by the Council in 1998 and the European Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust) established in 2002.
In addition, the Council has adopted several measures approximating the different criminal procedures of member states, such as the framework decision on the European Arrest Warrant in 2002 and the framework decisions on orders freezing property or evidence and on the mutual recognition of confiscation orders in 2003 and 2006 respectively.
One of the more recent initiatives seeks to establish an EU-wide network between the criminal records of member states. In 2007, the Council agreed on a framework decision on the exchange of information extracted from criminal records between member states. Once it is formally adopted, the framework decision will ensure that any conviction handed down in one member state against a national of another member state is transmitted as soon as possible to the criminal record in the home state of the convicted person. At present, national courts often pass sentences solely on the basis of the convictions that appear in their national register, without any knowledge of previous convictions in other member states.
As regards the implementation of this framework decision, the Council is currently discussing the establishment of an European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS). The proposed Council decision would define the elements of a standardised format allowing information to be exchanged in a uniform, electronic manner. Member States would be required to use the codes specified in the decision's two annexes to identify the criminal offences and penalties. This would ensure that the information could be easily understood by the receiving authority. Six member states – Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic – have already embarked on a pilot project for an electronic exchange between their national criminal record registers.