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The Hague Programme: 10 priorities for the next five years

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How can we strengthen the area of freedom, security and justice within the European Union? The Commission’s answer to this question consists of 10 priorities for the next five years.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 10 May 2005 – The Hague Programme: ten priorities for the next five years. The Partnership for European renewal in the field of Freedom, Security and Justice [COM(2005) 184 final – Official Journal C 236 of 24.9.2005].

SUMMARY

The multiannual Hague Programme, adopted at the European Council of 4 and 5 November 2004, sets out 10 priorities for the Union with a view to strengthening the area of freedom, security and justice in the next five years. An annex to the communication sets out specific measures and a timetable for their adoption (see also Action Plan).

The Commission feels that efforts should be concentrated on the following 10 priorities:

Strengthening fundamental rights and citizenship. The Union plans to monitor and promote the observance of fundamental rights in European policies. Among other things, it converted the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia into the European Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in January 2007. The Commission will devote special attention to children’s rights and to continuing its efforts to combat violence against women. It also intends to work against all kinds of discrimination and to ensure the protection of personal data. The way in which the rights conferred by European citizenship – such as free movement within the Union and voting rights in European Parliament and local elections – are exercised must also be improved. The measures adopted by the Commission include inter alia the “Fundamental Rights and Justice” framework programme and assessment reports on how successfully directives regarding the right to move and reside freely are applied.

Anti-terrorist measures. A comprehensive response to terrorism is the only way to combat it effectively. The approach must be integrated and coherent. The Commission emphasises the need for terrorism prevention and exchanging information. Its intention is to support Member States in their fight against terrorism by focusing on terrorism recruitment and financing, prevention, risk analysis, protection of vulnerable infrastructure and consequence management. Terrorism and its causes can only be combated effectively through cooperation with third countries. The measures adopted by the Commission to achieve its objectives include: proposals aimed at strengthening cooperation between the law-enforcement services of Member States, particularly by improved exchanges of information, a European framework for the protection of related data, a communication on the protection of critical infrastructure, a communication on the prevention of and the fight against terrorism financing, a proposal on preventing the misuse of charitable organisations for the financing of terrorism and monitoring the pilot project in place for the victims of terrorism.

Defining a balanced approach to migration. The Commission intends to come up with a new, balanced approach to dealing with legal and illegal immigration. This involves fighting illegal immigration and the trafficking of human beings, especially women and children. The Hague Programme provides for the adoption of a communication and a plan for legal immigration.

The proper management of migration flows also involves greater cooperation with third countries in all fields, including the readmission and return of migrants. The measures introduced by the Commission to achieve this include the “Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows” framework programme, which covers the creation of an External Borders Fund, an Integration Fund, a Return Fund and a European Refugee Fund.

Developing integrated management of the Union’s external borders. Within the Union, the free movement of persons is made possible by the removal of internal border controls. This requires greater efforts to strengthen the integrated management of external borders. The FRONTEX-Agency has been set up to manage external borders and may be given additional tasks in the future. Equally important is the creation of an effective visa policy through development of, for example, a visa information system and, in the future, a common European consular service. One of the short-term priorities is to make identity and travel documents more secure by equipping them with biometric identifiers.

Setting up a common asylum procedure . The Commission aims to set up a harmonised and effective asylum procedure. In the short-term, it will be submitting a proposal for a directive concerning long-term resident status for refugees and in the medium-term, once the way in which existing legislation is being applied has been assessed, it will propose a common procedure and status for refugees. Operational cooperation in the field of asylum will be continued and maintained, notably by way of the European Refugee Fund.

Maximising the positive impact of immigration. Immigrant communities must be integrated if they are not to become isolated and excluded from society. The Commission encourages Member States to push ahead with their integration policies in order to help improve mutual understanding and dialogue between religions and cultures. It also intends to set up a European framework for integration and to promote a structural exchange of experience and information on integration.

Striking the right balance between privacy and security while sharing information. Law-enforcement authorities must be able to share information if they are to fight terrorism and investigate cross-border crime effectively. The Union must support constructive dialogue between all interested parties in order to find solutions accommodating both the availability of information and the observance of fundamental rights, such as the protection of privacy and the protection of data. The European Police Office (Europol) has a central role in this context.

Developing a strategic concept on tackling organised crime. Cooperation between Member States’ law-enforcement authorities, such as the police or customs, must be improved in the fight against organised crime. Working towards a European model for criminal intelligence is a priority. Therefore, the Commission adopted a communication on developing a strategic concept on tackling organised crime in 2005.

A genuine European area of justice. Access to justice must be guaranteed in order for judgments to be made and enforced. The Union must take steps to instil mutual confidence between Member States by laying down minimum procedural standards, which for example safeguard the right of defence.

As regards civil legal matters, the Commission is focusing on completing its mutual recognition programme for judgments in civil and commercial matters. To this end, it has initiated consultations regarding judgments on family property, succession and wills with a view to drawing up new legislative proposals.

As regards criminal legal matters, legislation must sometimes be approximated and minimum legal procedural standards must be set up if mutual confidence between Member States is to be strengthened. Eurojust is the key player as regards judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

The Commission also wishes to see greater protection of the Union’s financial interests. Operational measures to safeguard a genuine European area of justice include: Union support for judicial organisations and institution networks, justice quality assessment, a communication on legal training in the EU and seminars to promote cooperation between legal practitioners.

Sharing responsibility and solidarity. No political objective can be met without adequate funding. The Hague Programme was adopted at a time when the Commission was preparing its proposals for the financial perspective 2007-13; this made it possible to ensure that the objectives of the Hague Programme were in line with the financial means available for them over the same period. In April 2005, the Commission presented three framework programmes examining which type of political and financial instruments most effectively enable the objectives of freedom, security and justice to be met.

The Commission attaches great importance to the implementation of provisions and to how it can assess and evaluate such implementation by Member States. Political flexibility in matters concerning justice, freedom and security enables political priorities to be shuffled in response to unexpected events, such as the London attacks of 7 July 2005. The nature and scale of such events are often international. The Action Plan should therefore also be flexible and adaptable. The European Council wished to have a midterm-review , and the Commission provided annual “scoreboards” on the state of implementation of the Hague Programme.

RELATED ACTS

Council and Commission Action Plan implementing the Hague Programme on strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union [Official Journal C 198 of 12.8.2005].
This Action Plan is intended to serve as a frame of reference for the work of the Council and the Commission for 2004-09. It contains a timetable for the adoption and implementation of the actions set out in the Plan that were designed to put into practice the priorities and objectives of the Hague Programme (strengthening freedom, security and justice in the EU) adopted as a result of the above communication. These measures – legislative proposals, consultation documents (green papers) and reports – are designed to give a practical aspect to the Hague Programme in an effective way.

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 10 June 2009 – Justice, freedom and security in Europe since 2005: an evaluation of the Hague Programme and Action Plan [COM(2009) 263 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
In this communication, the Commission presents the evaluations of the implementation of the Hague Programme at both the EU and Member State levels as well as the themes to guide future action within the next multiannual programme (the Stockholm Programme).
Initiatives in the field of justice, freedom and security are relatively recent compared to other actions taken at the EU-level. Nevertheless, progress has been achieved on a number of measures, such as on the protection of fundamental rights, asylum and immigration policies, border management and visa policy, anti-terrorism and the fight against crime, as well as police cooperation.
The realisation of a European area of justice has also progressed, especially through improved cross-border judicial cooperation in both civil and criminal matters. Significant progress has been made in particular on the legislative and operational aspects of the principle on mutual recognition, which is the cornerstone of judicial cooperation.
While the fight against drugs has also been effective, drug use in certain Member States has increased.
Less progress has been made on the rights of EU citizens, in particular due to the deficient transposition by Member States of Directive 2004/38/EC on the free movement of citizens within the Union.
In general though, most of the specific measures set out in the Hague Programme have been adopted, though the full impact of many of them will be realised only in the longer term. Nevertheless, due to the specific nature of the justice, freedom and security policy area, progress has been relatively uneven. For example, decision-making under the “third pillar” has been slow and at times limiting the desired outcomes. In addition, transposition by Member States of legislative instruments falling under the “third pillar” is often delayed and no recourse exists for formal infringement procedures. The Lisbon Treaty, once in effect, should speed up decision-making, while future action should focus on consolidating and enforcing the existing legal framework.

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 2 July 2008 – Report on Implementation of the Hague Programme for 2007 [COM(2008) 373 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This third annual report (“scoreboard”) illustrates a relatively similar trend with regard to progress as the previous reports (below). However, the overall assessment is rather unsatisfactory, with the rate of achievement only 38% compared to 53% in 2006. A higher number of actions were also either delayed or abandoned altogether as compared to 2006.
As in previous years, insufficient progress was made in particular on the “third pillar” actions, namely on the prevention of and fight against organised crime, police and customs cooperation, and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Nevertheless, good progress was made in the fight against terrorism, which remains a political priority within Justice and Home Affairs. Significant developments were also made in the other priority areas that fall under the “first pillar”. These include migration and border policy, and judicial cooperation in civil matters. However, progress on visa policy was not perceived as sufficient.
Some Member States have made considerable progress with national transposition, in contrast to previous years. Yet, many continue to miss the transposition deadlines by one or more years. Furthermore, for some of the legal instruments, transposition by Member States has been incomplete or even incorrect. Consequently, decision-making should be improved within the area of Justice and Home Affairs.
As a result of the insufficient progress made on certain actions over the past few years, the Commission is aiming to present a communication on the future of justice, freedom and security policies in 2009. This communication should not only further developments in this policy area, but also serve as the starting point for the next multiannual (2010-14) programme.

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 3 July 2007 – Report on the implementation of the Hague Programme for 2006 [COM(2007) 373 final –Official Journal C 191 of 17.8.2007].
The overall assessment of the Hague Programme was mixed: 53% of the actions were achieved but progress was not consistent in all policy areas.
Progress was made in “first pillar” areas such as fundamental rights, citizenship, civil justice, the European drugs strategy, asylum and migration, and visa and border policies. However, delays occurred in “third pillar” areas such as police and judicial cooperation, where unanimity was required.
The "scoreboard" shows that implementation at national level was not satisfactory. A number of Member States missed the deadlines for transposing the legal instruments into national law, in some cases by one or more years.

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 28 June 2006 – Report on the implementation of the Hague Programme for 2005 [COM(2006) 333 final – Official Journal C 184 of 8.8.2006].
This communication examines the state of play on each measure scheduled in the Hague Programme for 2005, or on a regular/ongoing basis in the Hague Action Plan. In addition to this monitoring of the adoption process, and for the first time as part of such an exercise for justice, freedom and security policies, it looks into the monitoring of the national implementation of these policies. This initial assessment reveals that, despite progress achieved by the Union in "communitised" justice, freedom and security policies such as judicial cooperation in civil matters, unanimous voting delayed the adoption of priority policies under the Hague Programme, such as those concerning the first phase of the European asylum system. At a national level, both the adoption and implementation of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (the "third pillar") remain especially problematic.

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 28 June 2006 – Evaluation of EU Policies on Freedom, Security and Justice [COM(2006) 332 final – Official Journal C 184 of 8.8.2006].

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 28 June 2006 – Implementing the Hague Programme: the way forward [COM(2006) 331 final – Official Journal C 184 of 8.8.2006].

Last updated: 13.11.2009

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