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Strasbourg, 11 March 2014
The Future EU Justice and Home Affairs Agendas: Questions and Answers
What is the EU Justice Agenda for 2020?
The European Commission has today outlined its vision for the future of EU justice policy (IP/14/233). 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 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 time has thus come to take stock of the progress made, identify the key challenges ahead and how to address them. Today's Communication sets out the political priorities that should be pursued to make further progress towards a fully functioning common European area of justice oriented towards trust, mobility and growth by 2020, to the benefit of citizens and companies.
What is the EU Home Affairs Agenda for 2020?
Migration, integration, asylum and security are all issues close to the European citiizen. In the last couple of years a lot of progress has been made in these areas. Although a lot has been achieved, efforts to ensure an open and secure Europe need to continue. In the Communication 'An Open and Secure Europe' adopted today (IP/14/234) the Commission is presenting its vision on the future agenda for Home Affairs. While the focus should be on a full implementation and enforcement of agreed policies and instruments, the Communication also identifies a number of key challenges that Europe and its citizens will have to face in a world that is changing rapidly. We will need to respond to issues like increasing international mobility, demographic developments, shortages of the EU's labour market, instability in the direct neighouborhood of Europe and rapid developments in modern technology that also bring new security challenges. At the same time the economic interests of the EU need to be reflected much more strongly in the future Home Affairs agenda. The Commission presents ways to reply to such developments, underlining the need for a reinforced cooperation between the Member States, the EU instititions and EU Agencies and third countries. Future work should also reflect common priorities and express the solidarity and shared responsibility that are fundamental to keeping Europe open and secure.
What are the main achievements in the area of justice?
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.
Justice for Citizens
As the guardian of the Treaties, the Commission intervened to ensure respect of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, including EU citizens' rights, and of the rule of law (SPEECH/13/677). The legally binding Charter has become a compass for all EU institutions. The Commission also intervened to ensure the respect of specific rights enshrined in EU legislation, in particular the right to equality (MEMO/14/156), protection of personal data, and consumer protection (IP/14/187). A new European Regulation on data protection is currently in the final stages of negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council (MEMO/14/60). Action has also been taken to strengthen gender equality by promoting women in decision-making through a European Directive (IP/12/1205 and MEMO/12/860).
In the area of civil justice, red tape and costs have been cut: rules have been established to facilitate citizens lives in the difficult circumstances of handling the legal implications of cross-border successions (IP/12/851) and divorce (IP/13/975).
In the area of criminal justice, mutual trust between Member States has been strengthened by progressively establishing a set of fair trial rights by means of common, EU-wide, minimum standards to protect persons suspected or accused of a crime (right to interpretation and translation (IP/13/995), right to information (IP/12/575), right to access a lawer (IP/13/921) and five new proposals on the presumption of innoncence, safeguards for children and legal aid (IP/13/1157). The rights of victims throughout the criminal procedure have also been improved (IP/12/1200 and MEMO/13/119)
Justice for 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. Bunisness can save on money thanks to Commission action ensuring that a judgement given in one Member State is now recognised and enforced in another Member State without intermediary procedures. The formality of ‘exequatur’ has been progressively removed in both civil and commercial proceedings (IP/12/1321).
As a first step towards an EU "rescue and recovery" culture to help companies and individuals in financial difficulties, the existing European rules on cross-border insolvency are being amended (IP/12/1354). The Commission also initiated the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor's Office to make sure every euro in the EU budget is used for its purposes and is protected from criminals (MEMO/14/124).
Improving the independence, quality and efficiency of national justice systems is now firmly part of the economic adjustment programmes and of the European Semester. The EU Justice Scoreboard (IP/13/285) is assisting Member States and the EU institutions by providing objective, reliable and comparable data on the effectiveness of the national justice systems.
What are the main achievements in the area of home affairs?
Asylum and immigration
Significant progress has been made since the Stockholm program set ambitious targets in 2009. Since then, a Common European Asylum System has been agreed, improving standards for those in need of protection, to ensure fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers in Europe wherever they arrive. It includes, among other things, common deadlines for handling asylum applications and new provisions for the special needs of unaccompanied minors. Channels for legal migration have been reinforced, and there are now clearer conditions for entry and stay and a common set of rights for migrants exists. A framework for the EU’s external migration and asylum policies has also been put in place, allowing the EU to engage in a comprehensive manner with countries in its neighbourhood and beyond and to contribute to on-going UN and state-led initiatives in the field of migration and development.
Schengen and visas
The Schengen area - one of the most popular achievements of the European project - has been strengthened. The common visa policy has undergone major modifications, which have simplified the entry of bona fide travellers into the European Union contributing to its economic growth. Visa requirements for several countries have been abolished.
Internal security and organised crime
In the area of security, legislation and concrete cooperation now provide common tools to help protect European societies and economies from serious and organised crime. Increased cooperation on law enforcement has proved essential for responding to common threats such as trafficking in human beings, terrorism, cybercrime and corruption.
What are the main challenges for the future of justice policy?
In today's Communication, the Commission identifies three key future challenges in the area of justice policy: strengthening trust, mobility, and growth.
Trust. Mutual trust is the bedrock upon which EU justice policy should be built. 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 the Member State where they have been taken.
Mobility. Europeans are increasingly using their right to free movement. 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 experience practical and legal difficulties when they try to enjoy the same rights they have at home in another Member State. 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. 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 effectively enforce contracts and handle litigation throughout the EU, without encountering the hurdles they still confront today.
What are the main challenges for the future of home affairs policy?
Openness. Europe is part of a globalised and interconnected world where international mobility is expected to increase. More people will want to come to visit, to study, to work or to seek protection. The EU will be faced with demographic changes, urbanisation, increasingly diverse societies and shortages on the labour market.
Europe will be faced with the consequences of instability in many parts of the world and of its immediate neighbourhood in particular. Events like the Arab Spring and the present crisis in Syria call for appropriate responses and additional efforts will be needed to avoid further loss of lives of those who try to reach European shores. Developments on our eastern borders are difficult to predict but will have a serious impact on the EU's work.
Security. Technology is developing quickly, providing new opportunities for economic growth and fundamentally changing the way we connect and relate to each other. These changes also bring new security challenges. Cybercrime is of increasing concern, trafficking in human beings is getting more and more sophisticated, cross-border organised crime is taking on new shapes and terrorism remains a threat to security. We must harness developments in technology to meet these risks.
How will the EU address the future challenges in justice and home affairs?
To address these challenges, the Commission proposes to base future EU justice and home affairs policy on consolidating what has been achieved, codifying EU law and practice where necessary and complementing the existing framework with new initiatives.
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.
Why is the Commission proposing EU Justice and Home Affairs Agendas now?
Following the Amsterdam Treaty, the European Council laid down the priorities for the Justice and Home Affairs policy areas in three subsequent five-year programmes, 'Tampere', 'The Hague' and 'Stockholm'. These programmes became increasingly detailed and prescriptive with a long list of measures to be taken. The European Council's five-year Stockholm programme and the Commission action plan for the area of freedom, security and justice will come to an end in December 2014. The Communications adopted today set out the Commission's orientations for the political direction for the EU's work towards an open and safer Europe and a fully functioning common European area of justice oriented towards trust, mobility and growth by 2020. These will now be discussed with the European Parlaiment and the Council and the European Council on 24 June 2014.
Why is the EU not proposing another five-year programme?
EU justice and home affairs policies have evolved during the past 15 years and have become "mature" policy areas following successive changes to the EU Treaties - in particular the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009 - and three consecutive five-years programmes. The European Parliament and the Council have become co-legislators in virtually all areas of judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters, and of home affairs. The transitional phase which will lift current limitations to the judicial control by the European Court of Justice and to the Commission's power to launch infringements, over the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, and police cooperation, will come to an end as of 1 December 2014. A more political and strategic approach is now needed and the Justice and Home Affairs Agendas for 2020 are the Commission's contributions to the discussion with the European Parliament and the Council on the EU's work in these areas in the years to come. The Commission Communications adopted today will feed into further discussions, notably those of the European Council on 24 June 2014.
Were stakeholders consulted on the future EU Justice and Home Affairs policies?
Last November, the European Commission held the "Assises de la Justice" conference (IP/13/1117), bringing together judges, lawyers, scholars, policy makers and business representatives from across Europe. The European Commission also received a vast number of written contributions. Furthermore, discussions were held in the European Parliament, the Council and the Committee of Regions.
The Commission also organised a series of events and debates on the future of Home Affairs policies, where stakeholders and civil society were able to share their views and ideas on issues related to the Home Affairs portfolio.
Seminars and hearings have taken place with think-tanks and civil society organisations. Stakeholders and citizens were also invited to share their views and ideas on the DG Home website, through a public consultation. On 29 and 30 January 2014 the Commission organised a high-level conference in Brussels to discuss future development of Home Affairs policies.
How many people are concerned, and what will change for them?
EU justice policy has become increasingly central to EU integration and very tangible for many citizens. It has a major role to play in enforcing the common values upon which the Union is founded, in strengthening economic growth and in contributing to the effectiveness of other EU policies. A well-designed EU justice policy will ensure that the 507 million Europeans effectively benefit from a trusted and fully functioning common European area of justice.
In its future justice policy, the EU will be striving to meet the needs and expectations of European citizens and businesses. By consolidating the European area of justice, justice policy will help citizens as end-users of the justice systems, as well as the judiciary and legal practitioners. As a result, by 2020, justice and citizens' rights should know no borders in the EU.
EU Home Affairs policy is dealing with issues that are close to both EU citizens and non-EU nationals living in the EU. It includes issues that are very important for nationals of third countries that may want to come to the EU. Facilitating the EU's visa procedures for instance will have an impact on millions of people who will see that access to the EU will require less paper work. Visa obligations for various other third countries are being removed, even further facilitating access to the EU. Areas such as migration and integration effect us all. Our migration policies are a clear example of this. Building a well-managed migration policy that is in the interest of the European economy, respects the rights of migrants, has a strong social dimension and taking into account the consequences of the countries of origin, will be one of the priorities for the years to come.
An overview of statistics in the various policy areas can give an idea of the issues at stake and challenges ahead.
For more information
See IP/14/233 on the Future EU Justice Agenda
See factsheets on the achievement and challenges ahead in the area of justice
See IP/14/234on the Future EU Home Affairs Agenda