* European Commission proposes minimum jail term across EU
* 20-euro and 50-euro notes are most common fakes
* Move comes after ECB unveils new 5-euro note
By John O'Donnell
BRUSSELS, Feb 5 The European Commission stepped
up its fight against counterfeiting of euro notes and coins on
Tuesday, proposing a minimum six months in jail for serious
offences and steps to take fakes rapidly out of circulation.
"We must make sure that crime doesn't pay," said Algirdas
Semeta, the European commissioner in charge of fighting fraud.
"A more harmonised approach to sanctions and better
cross-border cooperation will help us to come down hard on
currency counterfeiting," he said in a statement.
The measures, which must be approved by EU member countries,
would impose common criminal penalties for producing and
distributing forged notes and coins.
Punishments currently vary across the 27 countries in the
European Union. Bulgaria and Austria, for example, have no
minimum sanctions for anyone caught distributing fake currency.
And in Lithuania and Ireland, those involved with
counterfeiting may escape with just a fine.
The proposals would tighten rules in EU members such as
Bulgaria, identified by pan-EU policing agency Europol as one of
the foremost countries for euro forgery, alongside Italy.
They would also speed up analysing seized counterfeits
during ongoing court cases, in order to remove fake notes and
coins from circulation.
The 20-euro and 50-euro notes are those most commonly
forged, according to the European Central Bank, together making
up about four in five of the 280,000 fake notes withdrawn from
circulation in the second half of last year.
The steps would complement additional security features,
such as new watermarks on the new 5-euro note the ECB launched
A Europol investigation found organised crime groups in
countries such as Italy, Bulgaria and Colombia, had set up a
sophisticated network for printing and distributing fake euros.
The single currency is used in the euro zone's 17 European
Union members, with 330 million people. It is also legal tender
in several other countries and territories outside the currency
union, including Montenegro and Kosovo.
There are 913 billion euros in notes circulating globally
and 16 billion euros in coins.
(Reporting By John O'Donnell; editing by Rex Merrifield)