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European Commission

Press release

Strasbourg, 11 March 2014

Towards a true European area of Justice: Strengthening trust, mobility and growth

The European Commission has today outlined its vision for the future of EU justice policy. Four years after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty the construction of a European area of Justice has advanced in leaps and bounds. The Commission has used legislation in the area of justice to cut red tape and costs for citizens and business, to drive economic recovery and to ease the practical life of citizens making use of their free movement rights. The Commission's objective for the future is to make further progress towards a fully functioning common European area of justice based on trust, mobility and growth by 2020.

"In the space of just a few years, justice policy has come into the limelight of European Union activity – comparable to the boost given to the single market in the 1990s. We have come a long way, but there is more to do to develop a true European area of Justice," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "Building bridges between the different justice systems means building trust. A truly European Area of Justice can only work optimally if there is trust in each other's justice systems. We also have to focus on two other challenges: the mobility of EU citizens and business in an area without internal borders, and the contribution of EU justice policy to growth and job creation in Europe."

The end of 2014 is a turning point in the development of EU Justice policy: the European Council's five-year Stockholm Programme and the related Commission Action Plan (IP/10/447) setting the priorities for the area of freedom, security and justice will come to an end on 1 December 2014. So too, will the transitional phase set out in the Lisbon Treaty for the area of justice. This will lift 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 police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, 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.

The Commission's vision for the future of EU Justice policy was published today together with its future agenda in the area of Home Affairs (see IP/14/234). Both future agendas come in the form of a Communication. In the justice area, the Commission identifies three key challenges: enhancing mutual trust, facilitating mobility, and contributing to economic growth.

  • Trust. Mutual trust is the bedrock upon which EU justice policy should be built. EU instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant or rules on conflict of laws issues between Member States require a high level of mutual trust between justice authorities from different Member States. While the EU has laid important foundations for the promotion of mutual trust, it needs to be further strengthened to ensure that citizens, legal practitioners and judges fully trust judicial decisions irrespective of in which Member State they have been taken.

  • Mobility. Europeans are increasingly using their right to free movement: they increasingly travel, study, marry, form a family, buy and sell products and services across borders in Europe. There are currently nearly 14 million EU citizens residing in a Member State of which they are not a national. Even though citizens increasingly use their rights, they still face some practical and legal difficulties when they try to exercise the rights they have at home in another Member State. The Commission is tackling such daily obstacles: in its most recent EU Citizenship report, it has for example proposed 12 actions to strengthen citizens' rights (IP/13/410 and MEMO/13/409). Justice policy should continue, as a priority, to remove obstacles to EU citizens exercising their right to move freely and live in any EU country.

  • Growth. Over the past years, justice policies have been mobilised to support companies, growth and economic stability by improving access to justice and facilitating the resolution of disputes. Making sure a judgement given in one Member State can be recognised in another Member State without bureaucratic procedures (IP/12/1321); proposing an optional European Sales Law which businesses can chose to do business in 28 EU countries (MEMO/14/137); a modern data protection law for the digital Single Market (MEMO/14/60) and taking steps towards a "rescue and recovery culture" on cross-border insolvency (IP/12/1354), are just some of the examples. In future, EU justice policy should continue to support economic recovery, growth and tackling unemployment. Structural reforms are needed to ensure that justice systems can deliver swift, reliable and trustworthy justice. Businesses need to be confident that they will be able to enforce contracts and handle litigation effectively throughout the EU, without encountering the hurdles they still confront today.

To address these challenges, the Commission proposes to base future EU justice policy on a combination of different methods: consolidating what has been achieved, codifying EU law and practice where necessary and complementing, where appropriate, the existing framework with new initiatives. A case-by-case analysis and impact assessments will be needed to decide on the best approach in each area.

  • Consolidation is for example needed to make sure effective remedies and independent national enforcement authorities exist to turn rights into reality on the ground; to train judges and legal practitioners so they become real "Union law judges"; and to improve the use of information technology in courts, judicial and extra-judicial proceedings.

  • Codification of existing EU legislation and European Court case law could be considered in the area of consumer legislation or procedural rights for suspects of crime – streamlining the existing framework and making rights more easily accessible to citizens and businesses.

  • Complementing existing justice policies and legal instruments should always be done with the purpose of enhancing mutual trust, facilitating the life of citizens and further contributing to growth. The approaches to be chosen can include mutual recognition, traditional harmonisation and harmonised optional substantive or procedural law, for example.

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council have already held discussions on the future of EU justice policies. The College of Commissioners held an orientation debate on 25 February. The Commission Communication adopted today will feed into further discussions, notably those of the European Council on 24 June.

Background

EU Justice Policy has undergone profound changes in the past few years. It was only in 2010, with the start of the mandate of the current Commission, that a justice portfolio was created. Since then, the Commission has brought forward more than 50 initiatives in this area, delivering 95% of the Stockholm Programme and laying the building blocks of a true European area of Freedom, Justice and Security at the service of Europe's citizens – one of the EU's key objectives as stated in the Treaty of Lisbon.

Major steps have been taken in just a few years: New EU rights for victims of crime (IP/12/1200), stronger fair trial rights for suspects in criminal proceedings (IP/12/575, IP/13/995, IP/13/921) and easier recognition of judgements (IP/12/1321) have improved access to justice, while Commission proposals on personal data protection are set to bolster fundamental rights and the digital Single Market (MEMO/14/60). The Commission also initiated the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor's Office to make sure every euro in the EU budget can be used for its purposes and is protected from criminals (MEMO/14/124). Moreover, initiatives like the EU Justice Scoreboard (IP/13/285) have highlighted how crucial effective justice systems and policies are for economic growth.

Last November, the European Commission organised the "Assises de la Justice" conference (IP/13/1117), bringing together judges, lawyers, scholars, policy makers and business representatives from across Europe to debate about the future of justice policies. In January 2014, a similar conference was organised to discuss future EU home affairs policies.

For more information

Press pack:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/effective-justice/news/140311_en.htm

Link to MEMO: MEMO/14/174

Link to updated Assises factsheets

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:

http://ec.europa.eu/reding

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice

Contacts :

Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)

Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)

For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by e­mail

Annex: Trust in national justice systems

Source: Eurobarometer survey 385 of November 2013 – Justice in the EU


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