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Brussels, 4 October 2013
Justice and Home Affairs Council 7-8 October 2013 in Luxembourg
European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers will meet in Luxembourg on 7-8 October 2013. The European Commission will be represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner and Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.
Main agenda items for Justice Ministers (7 October):
Main agenda items for Home Affairs Ministers (8 October):
Justice Council: 7 October
1. EU Data Protection Reform
The European Commission proposed a reform of the EU's data protection rules in January 2012 to make them fit for the 21st century (see IP/12/46 and IP/13/57). The package contains a Regulation setting out a general EU framework for data protection and a Directive on protecting personal data processed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and related judicial activities.
What is expected at this Council? Following their support for rapid progress given at the Informal Justice Council in Vilnius in July, Ministers are expected to agree on the concept of the "one-stop shop" mechanism of the General Data Protection Regulation and provide clear orientations on its features.
Commission position: President Barroso emphasised in his State of the Union address on 11 September the importance of advancing on the data protection reform, which is crucial both for businesses and citizens and on the table of negotiators for 20 months. Today’s discussion, which will soon be followed by the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee vote on 21 October, will be an important step in finalising an agreement on the reform package under the current European Parliament mandate. Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner, said ahead of the Council: "Let us not forget the economic impact of this proposal. Data is today's currency: If we take into account that EU citizens' data was valued at around €315 billion in 2011 and has the potential to grow to nearly €1 trillion a year in 2020, we can understand citizens’ and businesses’ high expectations about this reform. The one-stop shop is a key element of our reform and of simplifying the existing rules. It would cut red tape for businesses and ensure equal protection for EU citizens. I hope that ministers will be able to reach agreement on this key measure so we can swiftly continue progress on the remaining issues."
Background: The current patchwork of 27 different and often contradictory data protection rules stands in the way of European businesses wanting to operate cross-border. The Commission's proposal for modernised and uniform data protection rules will remove barriers to market entry and lead to savings of about €2.3 billion per year.
In the first half of 2013, the Irish Presidency carried out three detailed rounds of comprehensive discussions on the first four chapters of the General Data Protection Regulation and also completed the first reading of the Data Protection Directive on Police and Criminal Justice authorities.
Following the extensive discussions at technical level, Ministers expressed their political support for rapid progress at the Informal Justice Council under the Lithuanian Presidency in Vilnius in July.
The European Parliament has also made some progress in its work on the two draft proposals. On 10 January, the Parliament rapporteurs presented their draft reports (MEMO/13/4). The IMCO, ITRE (MEMO/13/124), EMPL and JURI (MEMO/13/233) Committees have adopted their opinions. The LIBE Committee is now expected to vote on its own report on 21 October 2013.
2. Protecting the euro through criminal law
On 5 February 2013, the Commission proposed to strengthen protection of the euro and other currencies against counterfeiting through criminal law measures (IP/13/88 and MEMO/13/63). These include introducing minimum penalties, including imprisonment, for the most serious counterfeiting offences and strengthening cross-border investigations. The proposal will also enable the analysis of seized forgeries during judicial proceedings in order to detect further counterfeit euros in circulation.
What is expected at this Council? The Council is expected to agree a general approach. This will allow discussions with the European Parliament to kick off.
Commission position: The Commission thanks the Lithuanian Presidency for its work towards finding a political agreement on this proposal. European citizens and businesses trust the authenticity of banknotes and coins. But this is not a given. The euro is the world’s second most important currency and we should take all necessary steps to stop it from being targeted by criminals.
Background: The euro and other currencies continue to be targeted by organised crime groups active in money forgery. Since its introduction in 2002, counterfeiting of the euro has led to financial damage amounting to at least € 500 million. This is illustrated by the seizure of large amounts of counterfeit euro notes and coins and the continuous dismantling of illegal print-shops and mints each year within and outside the European Union. These developments show that the current measures against counterfeiting are insufficient and, therefore, that an improved protection of the euro is needed at European level.
280,000 counterfeit euro banknotes were withdrawn from circulation in the second semester of 2012. Two weeks ago the Portuguese Judiciary Police announced the dismantling an illegal counterfeit euro print shop seizing 30,000 euro as well as, in another operation, the world’s largest seizure of counterfeit euros. This resulted in the confiscation of a total of 380,200 euro in fake 200-euro notes of exceptional quality.
In June, the Austrian authorities, working with Europol, arrested 13 suspects from an international organised criminal group. They had produced and distributed counterfeit euro and Serbian dinar. In total, counterfeit euros worth over EUR 300,000 and 1.5 million in Serbian dinar were seized. This is good police work which needs also a solid criminal law framework to ensure that crime against the euro does not pay.
3. Protecting taxpayers’ money against fraud by establishing a European Public Prosecutor's Office and fighting cross-border crime by reforming Eurojust
To better protect European taxpayers’ money against fraud, the European Commission proposed on 17 July 2013 to establish a European Public Prosecutor's Office (IP/13/709). The Office’s exclusive task will be to investigate and prosecute and, where relevant, bring to judgment – in the Member States' courts - crimes affecting the EU budget. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will be an independent institution, subject to democratic oversight. The Commission has in parallel proposed a reform of the European Union’s Agency for criminal justice cooperation (Eurojust).
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will present its proposals to Ministers, to be followed by a general orientation debate.
Commission position: The proposal aims to improve EU-wide prosecution of criminals who defraud EU taxpayers with a European Public Prosecutor's office which is efficient, independent and accountable. The European Public Prosecutor's Office has been designed to be fully integrated into national judicial systems. There will be one European Public Prosecutor who will coordinate and at least one European Delegated Prosecutor in each member state. It will be these Delegates who will carry out the investigations and prosecutions in their respective member states, using national staff and applying national law. With its proposal, the Commission is delivering on its promise to apply a zero tolerance policy towards fraud against the EU budget.
Background: The logic of the European Public Prosecutor's Office proposal is simple: If you have a "federal budget" – with money coming from all EU Member States and administered under common rules – then you also need "federal instruments" to protect this budget effectively across the Union. Currently, there is a very uneven level of protection and enforcement across the EU when it comes to tackling EU fraud. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will make sure that every case involving suspected fraud against the EU budget is followed up and completed, so that criminals know they will be prosecuted and brought to justice. This will have a strong deterrent effect.
The proposal follows the announcement made last year (September 2012) by President Barroso in his State of the Union speech, and reflects calls from the European Parliament for the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor's Office.
In parallel to the creation of the European Public Prosecutor's Office, the Commission is proposing a reform of the European Union’s Agency for criminal justice cooperation (Eurojust). The reformed Eurojust will support the European Public Prosecutor’s Office in the fight against fraud against the EU budget. Eurojust will provide administrative support services to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, such as personnel, finance and IT. For example, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office will be able to use the IT infrastructure of Eurojust, including its Case Management System, temporary work files and index, for its own cases. The details of this arrangement will be laid down in an agreement between the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and Eurojust.
Home Affairs Council: 8 October
Free movement of EU citizens
Free movement is one of the most important and most cherished EU rights laid down in the Treaties and in the EU's 2004 Free Movement Directive. There is also a strong economic case for free movement: The recent experience of the 2004 and 2007 enlargements has shown that intra-EU mobility has positive effects on European economies and labour markets. For instance, in the space of just 5 years (2004-9), the GDP of EU-15 countries is estimated to have increased by almost 1% as a result of post-enlargement mobility.
At the request of the Interior Ministers of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and the United Kingdom, the JHA Council of 7 June 2013 discussed certain concerns that the four Ministers expressed regarding the right to free movement of citizens and family members. In response to these concerns the Commission, in a letter signed by the Commissioners for Justice, Employment and Home Affairs of 24 May, recalled that existing EU rules allow for the prevention of abuses. Vice-President Reding, in a letter of 19 July 2013, asked all Interior Ministers of the 28 Member States to provide relevant data so that the matter could be discussed again at the next Council in October.
What is expected at this Council? Today the Commission will listen to the concerns raised by the Member States and respond on the basis of the factual information sent to the Commission by the Member States.
Commission position: The basic principle of free movement is not up for negotiation. However, the Commission understands that some Member States are experiencing certain fraud and abuse cases. EU law allows Member States to effectively respond to these cases of fraud and abuses. The Commission will recall those safeguards and will propose a joint EU-Member State Action Plan in this respect.
Background: The right to free movement is one of the four freedoms already inscribed in the first Treaty – a pillar at the very foundation of the European Union. The modalities of free movement were further codified in a Directive from 2004. The Commission has consistently sought to assist Member States in the implementation of the free movement rules, particularly by issuing (in 2009) specific Guidelines on the Free Movement Directive which provide for example definition of 'abuse and fraud' and an illustration of what kind of measures Member States are allowed to take under EU law.