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|EUROPA > The EU at a glance > Europe in 12 lessons > Lesson 10|
Freedom, security and justice
European citizens are entitled to live in freedom, without fear of persecution or violence, anywhere in the European Union. Yet international crime and terrorism are among the main concerns of Europeans today.
Integration in the field of justice and home affairs was not envisaged in the Treaty establishing the European Community. However, as time went by, it became clear that freedom of movement had to mean giving everyone, everywhere in the EU, the same protection and the same access to justice. So an area of freedom, security and justice was created gradually over the years through amendments to the original Treaties under the Single European Act, the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty) and the Amsterdam Treaty.
I. Free movement
The free movement of people within the EU raises security issues for the member governments, since they no longer control internal EU borders. To compensate for this, extra security measures have to be put in place at the EU’s external borders. Moreover, since criminals can also exploit freedom of movement within the EU, national police forces and judicial authorities have to work together to combat cross-border crime.
One of the most important moves to make life easier for travellers in the European Union took place in 1985, when the governments of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed an agreement in a small Luxembourg border town called Schengen. They agreed to abolish all checks on people, regardless of nationality, at their shared borders, to harmonise controls at their borders with non-EU countries and to introduce a common policy on visas. They thus formed an area without internal frontiers known as the Schengen Area.
The Schengen package and the secondary legislation derived from it have since become an integral part of the EU Treaties, and the Schengen Area has gradually expanded. By the end of 2007, all members were part of the Schengen area except Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania, together with non-EU countries Iceland and Norway, who also fully apply the Schengen rules.
II. Asylum and immigration policy
Europe is proud of its humanitarian tradition of welcoming foreigners and offering asylum to refugees fleeing danger and persecution. Today, EU governments face the pressing question of how to deal with rising numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal, in an area without internal frontiers.
EU governments have agreed to harmonise their rules so that applications for asylum can be processed in accordance with a set of basic principles uniformly recognised throughout the European Union. In 1999, they set themselves the goal of adopting a common asylum procedure and giving equal status throughout the Union to persons who have been granted asylum. Some technical measures were adopted, such as minimum standards for the admission of asylum-seekers and for the granting of refugee status.
A European Fund for Refugees was established, with a budget of €114 million a year. Despite this large-scale cooperation between national governments, a true EU asylum and immigration policy still has to be put in place.
III. Fighting international crime and terrorism
To make an asylum and immigration policy viable, the EU must have an effective system for managing migration flows, carrying out checks at its external borders and preventing illegal immigration. A coordinated effort is needed to combat criminal gangs who run people-trafficking networks and who exploit vulnerable human beings, particularly women and children.
Organised crime is becoming ever more sophisticated and regularly uses European or international networks for its activities. Terrorism has clearly shown that it can strike, with great brutality, anywhere in the world.
This is why the Schengen information system (SIS) was set up. This is a complex database which enables police forces and judicial authorities to exchange information on people for whom an arrest warrant or extradition request has been issued, and on stolen property such as vehicles or works of art.
One of the best ways of catching criminals is to track their ill-gotten gains. For this reason, and to cut off the funding of criminal and terrorist organisations, the EU has brought in legislation to prevent money laundering.
The greatest advance made in recent years in the field of cooperation between law enforcement authorities was the creation of Europol, an EU body based in The Hague and staffed by police and customs officers. It tackles a wide range of international crime: drug trafficking, trade in stolen vehicles, people trafficking and illegal immigration networks, the sexual exploitation of women and children, pornography, forgery, the trafficking of radioactive and nuclear material, terrorism, money-laundering and counterfeiting the euro.
IV. Towards a ‘European judicial area’
At present, many different judicial systems operate side by side in the European Union, each within national borders. If the Union wants its people to share the same concept of justice, its justice system must make their daily lives easier rather than more complicated.
The most significant example of practical cooperation in this field is the work done by Eurojust, a central coordinating structure established in The Hague in 2003. Its purpose is to enable the national investigating and prosecuting authorities to work together on criminal investigations involving several EU countries.
The European arrest warrant, operational since January 2004, is intended to replace long extradition procedures.
International crime and terrorism do not respect national boundaries. This means that a common EU criminal justice policy is required, since cooperation between the courts in different countries can be hampered by their differing definitions of certain criminal acts. The objective is to give the EU a common framework for fighting terrorism, so as to guarantee its citizens a high level of protection and step up international cooperation in this area.
In the area of civil law, the EU has adopted legislation to facilitate the application of court rulings in cross-border cases involving divorce, separation, child custody and maintenance claims so that judgments in one country are applicable in another. The EU has established common procedures to simplify and speed up the settlement of cross-border cases in small and uncontested civil claims like debt recovery and bankruptcy.
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