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Action plan

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1) OBJECTIVE

To create an area of freedom, security and justice as provided for in the Treaty of Amsterdam.

2) COMMUNITY MEASURES

Council and Commission Action Plan of 3 December 1998 on how best to implement the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam on the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice.

3) CONTENTS

Part 1: Introduction

The Action Plan, which was called for by the Heads of State and Government at the Cardiff European Council (June 1998), was adopted by the Council on 3 December then submitted to the Vienna European Council a few days later. The Commission made an initial contribution in its communication of 14 July 1998 [COM(98)459 final], which dealt with the concepts of freedom, security and justice and outlined the approaches to be followed. The Action Plan gives substance to these concepts by defining the priority objectives for the next five years and setting out a timetable of measures necessary for achieving the area of freedom, security and justice envisaged by the Treaty of Amsterdam. Based on Title IV of the EC Treaty, Title VI of the Treaty on European Union and the Schengen acquis incorporated in these Treaties, the Plan provides a coherent framework for the development of EU action, while guaranteeing tighter judicial and democratic review by the Court of Justice and the European Parliament respectively. Its purpose is to ensure the free movement of persons whilst at the same time guaranteeing their security by combating crime. It should promote cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs, not only within the EU but also in the countries applying to join it.

"An area of freedom": this means not only ensuring the free movement of persons, according to the Schengen model, but also protecting fundamental rights and combating all forms of discrimination. Similarly, respect for private life and, in particular, the protection of personal data, must be guaranteed. As regards asylum and immigration, most of the instruments adopted in the past were not binding. Since these areas are now covered by the EC Treaty, Community instruments can be adopted and a genuine European policy defined.

"An area of security": this includes combating crime, in particular terrorism, trade in human beings, crimes against children, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, corruption and fraud. A special action plan on crime was adopted in June 1997 at the Amsterdam European Council; another action plan against drugs is to be implemented in the period 2000-2004. The central role of Europol is emphasised, as an essential instrument for increased cooperation between the Member States, particularly at operational level.

"An area of justice": despite differences between the Member States, the Union's objective is to guarantee European citizens equal access to justice and to promote cooperation between the judicial authorities. On civil matters, judicial cooperation should be aimed at simplifying the environment of European citizens. On criminal matters, it should strengthen the coordination of prosecution and provide a common sense of justice by defining minimum common rules for criminal acts, procedures and penalties. Emphasis is also placed on the specific case of cross-border disputes.

EU relations with non-member countries and international organisations will also develop following the changes made by the Treaty of Amsterdam. Since the question of asylum, immigration and judicial cooperation in civil matters now pertains to the first pillar, the Community has new areas of external competence which give it influence at international level in these fields.

The working structures of the Council in the field of justice and home affairs must adapt to the changes made by the Amsterdam Treaty and manage measures relating to both the first and third pillars and the Schengen acquis. This means setting up a system which provides good overall coordination, prevents overlap and provides the expertise necessary for decision-making.

Part 2: Priorities and measures

The Treaty lays down that an area of freedom, security and justice should be established in five years. To define common priorities and the detailed measures to be taken both in the short term (two years) and the longer term (five years), the following criteria were taken into account: the guidelines already laid down by the Treaty of Amsterdam, the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, operational effectiveness, the limits set by the Treaties (the Member States have sole competence regarding their internal security) and a realistic approach regarding the time and resources available.

As regards asylum, it is planned to establish common standards for procedures concerning refugees and the reception of asylum-seekers, to implement the Eurodac Convention, which will allow asylum seekers' fingerprints to be compared, and to spread the financial burden of receiving asylum-seekers between the Member States. An overall strategy on migration is planned.

In the field of immigration, common provisions have to be drawn up for the conditions of entry, residence and return, more effective measures have to be taken against illegal immigration and the rights of nationals of non-member countries are to be defined as regards free movement within the Union. A standard visa will be adopted.

Judicial cooperation in civil matters is of fundamental importance to the "area of justice". The rules on conflicts of law or jurisdiction should therefore be amended, particularly as regards contractual and non-contractual obligations, divorce, matrimonial regimes and inheritance, and mediation should be developed, particularly for family conflicts. The possibility of establishing a judicial network on civil matters to increase Europe-wide contacts between professionals in the field will be examined.

The main purpose of police cooperation is to guarantee European citizens a high level of protection. To achieve this, the cooperation emerging between the police and the judicial authorities must be developed. Europol must extend its operational capabilities and its areas of competence (e.g. combating the counterfeiting of the euro), and its priorities must include the fight against illegal immigration networks and terrorism. Relations between judicial authorities and Europol must be defined and a framework set for joint investigations. Arrangements for the intervention of the law enforcement authorities of one Member State in another should be examined, using the Schengen agreements as a model.

As regards judicial cooperation in criminal matters, measures will be taken to simplify mutual assistance between national authorities, extradition between Member States and the mutual recognition of decisions and enforcement of judgments, and to strengthen action against money laundering. The harmonisation of criminal law is also looked into.

For the latter two areas, the exchange, collection and storage of data will be developed to increase the effectiveness of the measures taken. They may concern dubious financial transactions, criminal records, cross-border crime or on-going investigations.

4) DEADLINE FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LEGISLATION IN THE MEMBER STATES.

Not applicable.

5) DATE OF ENTRY INTO FORCE (if different from the above)

6) REFERENCES

Official Journal C 19 of 23 January 1999

7) FOLLOW-UP WORK

Commission communication of 24 March 2000:Scoreboardto review progress on the creation of an area of "Freedom, Security and Justice" in the European Union [COM(2000) 167 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

8) COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING MEASURES

Last updated: 04.07.2005
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