Today marks a milestone for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters in the European Union. As of today, 1st of December 2014, 5 years after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the normal powers of the Commission and of the Court of Justice will apply to the acts in this field, in the same way as in any other area of EU law.
This is the beginning of a new era for the whole field of Justice and Home Affairs, as current limitations to the judicial control by the European Court of Justice and to the Commission's role as Guardian of the Treaty over the area of judicial cooperation in criminal matters will now be lifted, meaning the Commission will have the power to launch infringement proceedings if EU law – previously agreed by Member States unanimously – has not been correctly implemented.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans explained what this change means for Europe's citizens and for its police and criminal justice systems: "Europe is not only a Single market or an economic and monetary union, it also offers its citizens a European area of freedom, security and justice. Today, Justice and Home Affairs policies are finally set on an equal footing with other EU policies. This is a step forward in making them more transparent and democratic. From now on, the judicial review by the Court of Justice and the enforcement powers of the Commission will also be applied to police cooperation measures and to acts in the area of criminal law, thus enhancing citizens' rights and legal security."
Until today, police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters was the last remaining part of the so-called 'third pillar' of Union legislation, which once covered the entire field of Justice and Home Affairs. Its transformation began with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009. A five-year transition period allowed Member States and the Commission to prepare thoroughly for this change, and ensure a smooth transition to a new way of law-making and judicial control in this area.
On 28 November the Commission also adopted proposals for the repeal of 24 obsolete acts in this area, as they are no longer relevant or have been replaced by other measures. For reasons of legal certainty, the Commission proposes that the measures referred to in this proposal are repealed by the European Parliament and the Council.
An open and secure Europe
Ensuring freedom, security and justice is a key objective for the European Union. Since 1999, when the Amsterdam Treaty came into force, much has been done to safeguard an open and secure Europe, anchored in the respect for fundamental rights and based on a determination to serve European citizens: A Common European Asylum System has been agreed, improving standards for those in need of protection. The Schengen area – one of the most important achievements of the European project – has been strengthened. And legislation and practical cooperation now provide common tools to help protect European societies and economies from serious and organised crime.
European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: "The 1st of December marks the end of the transition period for JHA policies and opens a new chapter with additional responsibilities in the areas of Migration and Home Affairs. The EU's work on migration, asylum and security-related issues is crucial to ensure Europe is an open, prosperous and safe place to live and work for all its citizens. Many challenges remain and we know that there are no easy solutions. But there is a strong political will. I am convinced that, acting together, we will succeed."
A European area of Justice and Fundamental Rights
Over the past years, the Commission has laid the building blocks of a true European area of Justice and Fundamental Rights based on mutual trust at the service of Europe's citizens. Major steps have already been taken: New EU rights for victims of crime, stronger fair trial rights for suspects in criminal and easier recognition of judgements have improved access to justice, while Commission proposals on personal data protection are set to bolster fundamental rights and the digital Single Market.
Vĕra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: "Citizens expect their governments to provide justice, protection and fairness – this requires joint European action, based on our shared values. And as citizens increasingly study, work, do business, get married and have children across the Union, judicial cooperation among EU Member States must continue to be improved, step by step, delivering concrete results for citizens and business."
The UK continues to contribute to the EU-wide fight against organised crime and terrorism
Following the official notification of the list of measures that the UK would like to re-join, the Commission today adopted a decision to allow the UK to take part in crucial EU measures in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
Making use of the specific provisions of Article 10 of Protocol 36 attached to the Treaty, the UK in July 2013 decided to use its right to exercise a block 'opt-out', as of 1 December 2014, from all EU acts adopted under the former third pillar which had not been amended since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. On 20 November 2014, the UK notified its wish to opt-back-in to 35 of these instruments. Today's Commission Decision allows the UK to immediately re-join 29 non-Schengen measures, including Europol. The Council of the EU is responsible for adopting a Decision on the UK's opt-in to 6 Schengen measures.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: "The European Commission very much welcomes the move by the UK, which means that the UK will continue to work alongside its neighbours to fight against cross-border crime in an EU-wide framework. Historically Britain has been always at the forefront helping to shape European mutual recognition policies in the justice and home affairs areas and I am happy the British voice will still be heard around the table."
The end of the "third pillar" with the introduction of the Treaty of Lisbon means that provisions on police and judicial cooperation were incorporated into Title V of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and thus rules governing that Title now apply. As a transitional measure, with respect to the acts of the Union in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, until 1 December 2014, the powers of the Commission under Article 258 TFEU (infringement procedure) were not applicable and the powers of the Court of Justice remained the same as prior to the entry into force of the Treaty concerning these acts.
After the transitional period, the Court of Justice will now have full jurisdiction over the implementation of judicial cooperation in criminal matters and police cooperation and the Commission will be able to launch infringement proceedings against any Member State in breach of EU law.
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