A European high-tech crime unit is to launch in January following a compromise brokered between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
The agency, dubbed the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), will co-ordinate information sharing between European member states on cyber-crime issues.
ENISA, which will begin operations in January 2004, will work with business and the public to minimise the effects of viruses, hacking and online surveillance, and collaborate with industry to promote more constant security standards.
Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, said of the decision: "I'm very pleased that both parliament and member states have seen the urgency to get this agency in place and have been able to reach an agreement on the first reading of the proposal.
The European Parliament had been trying to get the agency approved quickly as the next round of elections would have delayed its launch until 2005.
The Council of Ministers' insistence that all member states have a seat on the controlling board has been agreed in exchange for enhanced regulatory and budget oversight of ENISA.
Under current levels of EU membership the agency will have a budget of €24.3m, although if the EU expands as expected this will increase by €9m.
But given the broad ranging nature of the agency's work some have questioned if this amount will be enough.
"Budget is crucial for an agency like this. Such an agency would have a huge range of possible activities across the whole of the continent," said Professor Neil Barrett, technical director at Information Risk Management.
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