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Brussels, 8 November 2010
Justice and Home Affairs Council: 8-9 November 2010
European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on 8 and 9 November 2010. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner, and Cecilia Malmström, EU Home Affairs Commissioner.
Justice issues (Vice- President Reding) ‑ Main agenda items for Justice Ministers (9 October):
1. Progress in EU action against drugs
Tackling drug abuse requires a long-term, integrated and multidisciplinary approach. The EU Drugs Strategy for 2005-2012 and its two implementing Drugs Action Plans (2005-2008 and 2009-2012) set out the EU’s coherent and balanced approach to reduce users’ demand and the supply of drugs.
Drugs policy is mainly the responsibility of Member States. The Commission's role is to ensure overall coherence, namely helping coordinate the EU’s approach at international fora. It has a clear role in relation to controlling new drugs. Under Council Decision 2005/387/JHA, the Commission can propose to the Council putting a new drug under control. On 20 October, the Commission proposed to ban mephedrone, an ecstasy-like drug that is already illegal in 15 Member States (IP/10/1355).
The Commission is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the EU Drugs Action Plan. In this context, it will adopt its first progress report since the current Action Plan was adopted in 2009.
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will report to the Council on progress made during the first 18 months of the EU's Drug Action Plan 2009-2012.
Commission position: The Commission welcomes the progress made so far under the Action Plan, but will highlight areas where further joint efforts are needed. Next year, the Commission will evaluate the 2005-2012 Drugs Strategy and prepare a new strategy for the post-2012 period.
Background: The EU Drugs Action Plan 2009-2012 is grouped around five priorities: to improve coordination, reduce drug demand and supply, enhance international cooperation and improve understanding of the drugs problem. The Action Plan sets out over 70 measures to help coordinate government interventions on illegal drugs, covering public health, law enforcement, customs, criminal justice and external relations.
2. Ensuring fair trial rights in the EU
Procedural safeguards represent a top priority in the justice area for the next five years. Minimum standards for the rights of defendants in criminal proceedings are essential to promote real mutual trust between citizens and the judicial authorities of different Member States, without which mutual recognition may never work properly. These standards should be fully compliant with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
What is expected at this Council? Ministers will discuss a political agreement on key aspects of the draft Directive on the right to information in criminal proceedings, which was proposed by the Commission in July (see IP/10/989).
Commission position: The Commission supports the aims of the Belgian Presidency, which is seeking a political agreement on several important aspects of the draft Directive. The proposal, if adopted by the European Parliament and EU Ministers of Justice, will help to avoid miscarriages of justice and reduce the number of appeals. Authorities prosecuting the case will have to ensure that suspects are given information about their rights. When someone is arrested, they will be given this information in writing – in a Letter of Rights – drafted in simple, everyday language. It will be provided to suspects upon arrest in all cases, whether they ask for it or not, and translated if necessary.
Background: The Commission has been committed to common EU standards in relation to criminal proceedings for many years and has taken a step-by-step approach on EU legislation. These measures will allow the Commission to develop a truly common and ambitious EU framework on the level of protection and fair trial rights. Justice Ministers approved the first such measure – the right to translation and interpretation – at their meeting in October (see IP/10/1305).
3. European Investigation Order
On 21 May 2010, seven EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) put forward an initiative for a European Investigation Order – a system that would ease justice authorities' work in obtaining evidence for transnational criminal proceedings (or investigations). The United Kingdom has said it wants to participate in the proposed Directive. The proposal would allow authorities to request their counterparts to investigate, share and gather evidence.
What is expected at this Council? The Belgian Presidency hopes to reach an agreement on a series of contentious issues, such as the definition of issuing authorities and grounds for refusal. The European Parliament will vote on the measure if the 27 Member States reach an agreement.
Commission position: The Commission noted in a report on 24 August (see IP/10/1067) that the proposal for a simpler, unified system could have advantages if it were backed by appropriate procedural and fundamental rights standards.
The Commission will continue to follow the negotiations closely. Any new instrument on evidence should offer added value, going beyond the achievements of the current fragmented legislative regime (Conventions on Mutual Assistance 1959 and 2000, European Evidence Warrant of 2008), and comply with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The initiative aims at providing a comprehensive and improved system for gathering of evidence in criminal matters based on the principle of mutual recognition.