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Brussels, 22 April 2010

Justice and Home Affairs Council: 23 April 2010 in Brussels

European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on 23 April 2010 to discuss security and immigration policies as well as citizens' access to justice. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner, and Cecilia Malmström, Home Affairs Commissioner.

The Commission will present a plan, which was adopted on 20 April (IP/10/447), to create a single area of justice and security for Europe’s citizens. The proposals, which will be implemented for the next five years, follow the political objectives in the Stockholm Programme of December 2009. The European Parliament and the Council must politically endorse the Commission plan.

Main agenda items for Justice Ministers:

  • EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights

  • European Protection Order

  • The role of justice policies in the economic recovery

Main agenda items for Home Affairs ministers:

  • Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme

  • SIS II

  • Erasmus for police officers

The action plan for justice and security will be raised in both meetings.

Justice issues (Justice Commissioner Reding):

  • EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

The Council will hold an orientation debate on the EU's accession to the ECHR. The Commission proposed negotiation directives for the accession on 17 March (IP/10/291).

The Lisbon Treaty provides the legal basis for the EU to accede to the ECHR, which is the most important instrument to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. Joining the Convention will further strengthen the EU's system of protecting fundamental rights.

The accession will introduce an additional judicial control in protecting fundamental rights in the EU. It will make the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg competent to review acts of the EU institutions, bodies and agencies, including rulings by the European Court of Justice, for respect of the European Convention on Human Rights. Accession will also provide a new possibility of remedies for individuals. They will be able to bring complaints – after they have exhausted domestic remedies – about the infringement of fundamental rights by the EU before the European Court of Human Rights.

The Council must approve the Commission’s mandate to negotiate the EU’s accession to the ECHR under the procedures in Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).

  • European Protection Order

The Council will discuss the proposal put forward by 12 EU countries for a European Protection Order that would extend judicial protection across the EU for victims of violence or someone under the threat of violence.

Commission position: The Commission fully endorses the commitment to grant appropriate protection to victims. Citizens’ free movement rights within the EU should not be impeded because they risk losing the protection available to them in their home country. We must tackle this serious issue in a fully co-ordinated manner and provide legal certainty to victims.

Nevertheless, there is an issue of uncertainty with the scope of the Member States’ initiative because protection measures can be made in both civil and criminal proceedings. The Commission’s view is that the current legal basis only covers the criminal law aspect of protection measures (Article 82 TFEU). This narrow scope can reduce the benefit of any EU action.

The Commission favours a broad scope for victims' protection. Therefore, it will carry out an impact assessment and an evaluation of existing rules. It will present a comprehensive package of measures in 2011 to protect victims' rights.

What is expected at this Council? The Council will attempt to reach a general approach. The European Parliament is yet to express its opinion in the legislative process.

Background: Under EU rules, the Commission has the sole right of initiative in civil law matters falling within the scope of the single market (Article 81 TFEU).

The Commission is reviewing the rights and support provided to victims of crime, particularly the 2001 Framework Decision on the standing of victims in criminal proceedings and the 2004 Council Directive relating to compensation for victims of crime.

  • The role of justice policies in the economic recovery

Small and medium-sized companies are prevented from expanding their businesses across the EU because of administrative burdens, such as high legal and transaction costs. Reducing bureaucratic barriers – such as the recognition of legal decisions or recovering cross-border debts – would open up the potential of 500 million consumers for these companies.

Commission position: Cutting red tape and boosting companies’ access to the Single Market are key elements for Europe’s economic recovery. These measures are part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, presented by President Barroso on 3 March 2010, to stimulate the economy and prepare the EU for the next decade of growth (IP/10/225). They also prominently figure in the Commission's plan for more justice and security in Europe (IP/10/447).

What is expected at this Council? The Spanish Presidency will propose measures to help businesses, civil law, dispute resolution and new technologies that can cut administrative costs.

Background: The Commission will propose by the end of this year changes to rules on the recognition of legal decisions across borders, removing fees that can be as high as €2000. It will also propose a Regulation in early 2010 to allow businesses to block debtors’ bank accounts.

Home Affairs issues (Home Affairs Commissioner Malmström):

    1. EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme Agreement (TFTP)

The Council is expected to approve the Commission’s proposed mandate to negotiate a long-term with the US on the processing and transfer of financial messaging data in the framework of the TFTP.

TFTP-derived information has already helped in the past to investigate and disrupt terrorists’ plots. In 2010, the Commission will negotiate a long-term agreement with the US, with a mandate including significant data protection guarantees. The EU will have the right to terminate the Agreement in the event of breach of any of the data protection safeguards.

Commission position: The Commission welcomes the adoption of the mandate for negotiation, aiming at arriving at a signed agreement as soon as possible, preferably before the end of June.

    2. SIS II

The Council will discuss the state of play on the development of the second generation of the Schengen Information System, SIS II, which deals with police cooperation and border control. SIS II is a common system that allows authorities in the EU, like the police, to access information such as alerts about people wanted for arrest.

Background: The JHA Council in June 2009 concluded that the development of SIS II should continue on the basis of the current project, subject to two "milestone" tests.

Commission position: The Commission, as well as the Presidency and a majority of Member States, have concluded that the first milestone test of SIS II, carried out in January 2010 with a re-run in March 2010, was passed. Therefore, the Commission welcomes the continuation of the SIS II project on the basis of the current technical solution.

What is expected at this Council? The Council is expected to endorse the continuation of the development of the SIS II project.

    3. Erasmus for police officers

One of the goals of the Commissions action plan for justice and security is to improve cooperation between police forces in different countries by setting up an exchange programme for police officers. The Commission wants to improve the

scheme that already exists for judiciary and judicial staff.

Commission position: The Commission welcomes the adoption of these conclusions.

What is expected at this Council? Adoption of Council conclusions to set up an exchange programme for police officers for the purposes of study, mutual learning and the pooling of knowledge and best practices in police work.

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