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Brussels, 28 February 2014
Justice and Home Affairs Council 3-4 March 2014 in Brussels
European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on 3-4 March 2014. 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 the Justice Council (4 March):
1. EU Data Protection Reform
The European Commission proposed a reform of the EU's data protection rules in January 2012 to strengthen online privacy rights and boost Europe's digital economy (see IP/12/46 and MEMO/14/60). Technological progress and globalisation have profoundly changed the way our data is collected, accessed and used. That's why the rules that apply to non-European companies when they provide services to EU citizens (territorial scope and international transfers), to key data processing techniques of the digital economy (pseudonymous data and profiling) and updated rights of citizens (data portability) are on the agenda. In addition, the aim of the data protection reform is to cut red tape and complete the digital Single Market: 28 EU Member States have implemented the existing 1995 data protection Directive differently, resulting in divergences in enforcement. A single law will do away with the current fragmentation and costly administrative burdens, leading to savings for businesses of around €2.3 billion a year. The data protection reform will help reinforce consumer confidence in online services, providing a boost to growth, jobs and innovation in Europe.
"At the October summit European heads of state and government committed to a “timely” adoption of the modernised data protection legislation. The European Parliament has sent a strong signal by overwhelmingly backing the Commission's proposals. The ball is now in the Council's court. I am confident we will be able to build on the momentum injected into the negotiations by the Greek Presidency at the last informal Council meeting in January. Seeing the latest progress, I will continue working with Ministers for an adoption of the data protection reform before the end of this year," said Vice-President Viviane Reding ahead of the Council meeting.
What is expected at this Council? Following up on discussions held in January at the Athens informal Justice Council, Ministers will be invited to generally endorse progress made on key aspects of the General Data Protection Regulation, notably relating to the territorial scope of the Regulation, the pseudonymisation of data and data portability – issues that are of key concern to consumers.
On Monday, Ministers will also briefly discuss the state of play of the proposed Directive for data protection in the law enforcement sector.
Commission position: The Commission will continue to work for a high level of protection for Europe's 507 million citizens as well as a for simpler set of rules for Europe's businesses. The Commission fully supports the Greek Presidency in achieving swift progress on the reform, in line with the commitment of European heads of state and government to adopt the new data protection legislation in a “timely” fashion and in any event before 2015. The Commission aims to achieve swift progress on both proposals (the data protection Regulation and the Directive for law enforcement purposes) which – as the European Parliament has continuously stressed – constitute a package. The two proposals together can ensure a comprehensive and consistent data protection framework for the 21st century. With regards to the territorial scope, the European Commission has repeatedly emphasised the importance of ensuring that non-European companies, when offering goods and services to European consumers, will have to apply the EU data protection law in full (SPEECH/13/720). To ensure an enhanced protection of citizens, Vice-President Reding already, at the March 2013 Justice Council, said that companies should be encouraged to use pseudonymous data rather than the actual names of persons (SPEECH/13/209).
Background: 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. The Lithuanian Presidency led the Council on intensive discussions on the ‘one-stop shop’ mechanism at the Justice Council in October where a general agreement on its principle was reached (see SPEECH/13/788), and December 2013 (see SPEECH/13/1027). The Greek Presidency convened a tripartite meeting in Athens (on 22 January) with the European Commission, the two European Parliament rapporteurs and the next Presidency of the EU (Italy) to work out a road map for agreeing on the data protection reform swiftly. The objective is to agree on a mandate for negotiation with the European Parliament before the end of the Greek Presidency.
2. Recovering cross-border debts
At the moment, it is up to national law to require a bank to pay the money from a client’s bank account to a creditor. The current situation in the 28 Member States is legally complicated, time consuming and expensive. Around 1 million small businesses face problems with cross-border debts and up to €600 million a year in debt is unnecessarily written off because businesses find it too daunting to pursue expensive, confusing lawsuits in foreign countries. On 25 July 2011, the Commission proposed a new Europe-wide account preservation order to ease the recovery of cross-border debts for both citizens and businesses (IP/11/923).
What is expected at this Council? The Council is expected to endorse the compromise agreement reached with the European Parliament just a few weeks ago (see MEMO/14/101), paving the way for a final adoption at first reading of this file.
Commission position: The Commission is satisfied that after two and a half years of work on this proposal, the European Account Preservation Order is now close to a final adoption. The proposal aims to ease cross-border claims and provide more certainty to creditors in order to recover their debt while strengthening the EU's single market and economic recovery.
Background: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of European economies – making up 99% of businesses in the EU. Around 1 million of these face problems with cross-border debts. Procedures for recovering debts from another country's jurisdiction are complex, multiplying the costs for businesses that wish to trade across EU borders. Typical problems range from differences in national law to the costs of hiring an additional lawyer and translating documents. On 30 May, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) voted to back the Commission’s proposal (MEMO/13/481). Ministers reached a general approach on the proposal at the Justice Council meeting in December 2013 (IP/13/1209).
4. Cross-border insolvency law
Businesses are essential for creating prosperity and jobs, but setting one up – and keeping it going – is tough, especially in today’s economic climate. The Commission, on 12 December 2012, therefore proposed to modernise the current EU rules on cross border insolvency (IP/12/1354 and SPEECH/12/945). Benefiting from ten years of experience, the new rules will shift focus away from liquidation and develop a new approach to helping businesses overcome financial difficulties, while protecting creditors' right to get their money back.
What is expected at this Council? The Greek Presidency will give an update on progress on this file at technical level and in the European Parliament.
Commission position: The Commission considers the proposal to be especially relevant in the current economic climate and welcomes the progress achieved so far at technical level under the stewardship of the Greek Presidency. The strong support from the European Parliament which backed the Commission's proposal in February (MEMO/14/88) should be the driver for further swift progress.
Background: Insolvencies are a fact of life in a dynamic, modern economy. Around half of enterprises survive less than five years, and around 200 000 firms go bankrupt in the EU each year. A quarter of these bankruptcies have a cross-border element. But evidence suggests that failed entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes and are generally more successful the second time around. Up to 18% of all entrepreneurs who go on to be successful have failed in their first venture. It is therefore essential to have modern laws and efficient procedures in place to help businesses, which have sufficient economic substance, overcome financial difficulties and to get a "second chance".
5. Filling the legal gaps for unitary patent protection
The European Commission proposed, on 29 July, 2013 to complete the legal framework for Europe-wide patent protection by updating EU rules on the jurisdiction of courts and recognition of judgements (the so-called “Brussels I Regulation”). The changes will prepare the way for a specialised European patent court – the Unified Patent Court – to enter into force once ratified, making it easier for companies and inventors to protect their patents (IP/13/750).
What is expected at this Council? The Greek Presidency will inform the Council about the agreement reached with the European Parliament a few weeks ago (see MEMO/14/101), allowing the adoption of the proposed Regulation at first reading.
Commission position: The Commission welcomes the progress achieved in the Council and European Parliament on this important proposal. A positive vote by the European Parliament at its April plenary session will pave the way for the entry into force of the 'Patents package', a regulatory framework which is crucial for innovation in the European Union (IP/11/470).
Background: At present, someone seeking to obtain Europe-wide protection for their invention has to validate European patents in all 28 EU Member States. The patent holder may become involved in multiple litigation cases in different countries on the same dispute. But this will change in the near future thanks to the agreement on the unitary patent package. The Unified Patent Court – established under an agreement signed on 19 February 2013 (PRES/13/61) – will simplify procedures and lead to quicker decisions, with just one court case before the specialised court instead of parallel litigation in national courts. The Agreement relies upon the “Brussels I Regulation” (Regulation 1215/2012) to determine international jurisdiction of the Unified Patent Court.
6. European Public Prosecutor's Office
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 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.
What is expected at this Council? The Greek Presidency will update the Council on the state of play and Ministers will hold a debate.
Commission position: The Commission welcomes the positive momentum on the European Public Prosecutor's Office that we have seen over the past weeks with European Parliament committees and the French and German government lending their support to the proposal (see MEMO/14/124). The Commission will support the Greek Presidency in its efforts to get as many Member States as possible to back the current proposal for a European Public Prosecutor's office.
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. Today, action and conviction rates for fraud offences against EU resources greatly vary across the EU: EU-wide only 45.7% of cases transferred to Member States are followed up by national judicial authorities and the conviction rate of these is on average only 42.3%. This means that many criminals who steal taxpayers' money are getting away with their crimes.
7. Better safeguards for children suspected or accused for a crime
The European Commission proposed a package of proposals in November 2013 to guarantee fair trial rights for all citizens, wherever they are in the European Union (see IP/13/1157 and MEMO/13/1046). A central part of this package, is the proposed Directive to ensure that children have special safeguards when facing criminal proceedings. According to the proposal, children who are especially vulnerable because of their age should have mandatory access to a lawyer at all stages. This means that children cannot waive their right to be assisted by a lawyer, as there is a high risk that they would not understand the consequence of their actions if they were able to waive their rights. Children are also set to benefit from other safeguards such as being promptly informed about their rights, being assisted by their parents, not being questioned in public hearings, the right to receive medical examination and being kept separate from adults inmates if deprived of liberty.
What is expected at this Council? Ministers will hold a general debate on the Commission's proposal.
Commission position: The Commission welcomes the intensive work done by the Greek Presidency on the file, and the constructive approach shown by Member States. The rights guaranteed by the proposed Directive are key to ensuring the fairness of criminal proceedings for children, so Member States should seek a swift agreement on this initiative, whilst maintaining the legal ambition of the proposal.
Background: The number of children facing criminal justice is about 1.086.000 across the EU. That is 12% of the total European population facing criminal justice.
8. Future developments in the Justice and Home Affairs area
The Stockholm programme which has until now governed work in the Justice and Home Affairs area comes to an end this year and the European Council is preparing the "strategic orientations" for future work in these fields. A discussion on the priorities for the coming years is planned for June. The European Commission held an orientation debate on the future of Justice and Home Affairs policies on 25 February which will feed into a Communication to be presented in mid-March.
What is expected at this Council? The Commission will give an oral presentation of its upcoming Communication on the future of justice policies.
Commission position: The upcoming Commission Communication will be an important contribution in elaborating future Union activity in this area. The Commission welcomes the continued discussion on the future of EU justice policy. The Commission believes that for the coming years works has to focus on dealing with three main challenges: Trust, Mobility and Growth. Justice policies can be a key tool to deliver these objectives.
Background: The Commission hosted a major conference on the future of justice policies – the 'Assises de la Justice' on 21-22 November 2013 in Brussels (IP/13/1117). The starting point for the debates at the conference was a package of five discussion papers presented by the Commission covering European civil, criminal and administrative law, as well as the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU. These papers presented ideas and questions for possible actions in EU justice policy in the years to come.