EC plans translation rights
All EU governments will be obliged to provide full interpretation and translation for criminal suspects under European Commission plans.
The idea is to help people "exercise their fair trial rights anywhere in the EU when they cannot understand the language of the case" said a statement.
The Commission cites the examples of an Italian tourist involved in a car crash in Sweden who was not allowed to talk to an Italian-speaking lawyer during his trial, and the Polish suspect denied access to written translations of evidence used against him in a French court.
Such "unexpected barriers" could lead to unfair convictions during legal proceedings in other EU countries.
The proposal - requested three months ago by EU ministers themselves - is the first step under the new Lisbon Treaty towards setting common EU standards in criminal cases.
The Treaty allows the EU to adopt measures "to strengthen the rights of EU citizens, in line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights", said the statement.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "Today we are taking a first important step towards a Europe where justice knows no borders. Nobody in the EU should ever feel that their rights and their protections are weakened simply because they are not in their home countries.
"Without clear guarantees that all EU countries respect our citizens' fundamental rights, how can we build trust between the authorities who should be working together to keep us safe?
"Justice and security go hand-in-hand. This is why I expect the European Parliament and the Council (of EU justice ministers) to move quickly on this proposal to make sure that nothing prevents citizens from realising their right to a fair trial, as guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights."