The European parliament has given final approval to the creation of a European driving licence, which will replace the many national licences used in the EU.
Commissioner Jacques Barrot says the cards will help fight fraud
The credit card-style licence, with photograph and possibly a microchip, will start to be introduced in 2013.
The EU hopes it will improve security and prevent people disqualified in one country getting a licence in another.
National governments have a choice of whether to issue the new forgery-proof licences for 10 or 15 years.
Licences for lorry and bus drivers, however, will be valid for only five years.
For motorcyclists, a "step-up" approach will become obligatory in all member states, meaning that new riders will have to build up experience on smaller motorcycles before moving on to larger engines.
To prevent "driving licence tourism" a European licence database will be created.
"The times when people convicted of drink-driving could simply get a new licence in another country will soon be over," said German Socialist MEP Willi Pieczyk.
Some EU countries currently issue driving licences for life. Germany and Austria were reluctant to agree to a licence that had to be regularly renewed, but dropped their objections in March.
The phasing in of the new licence will be completed by 2032.
The European Union's 300 million drivers currently use a total of 110 different paper and plastic licences.
Belgian MEP Mathieu Grosch said some licences still in use were so old, they had been issued by states that no longer exist, such as the former East Germany.
Member states will have the option to include a microchip to store information about the driver.
"The common EU driving licence will play a major role in improving security on European roads and in fighting fraud," said Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot.
""Each European driver will carry a driving licence that is clear, modern and recognised in all EU member states."