Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner
Building a true European area of Justice that works for citizens and businesses
7 October 2013
Today we have made important progress on the building a true European area of Justice that works for citizens and businesses.
Two very important files were agreed upon today.
1. Access to lawyer
Let me start with another breakthrough in guaranteeing the rights of citizens suspected of having committed a crime. Ministers have formally adopted a law that will guarantee all citizens in Europe access to a lawyer if they are suspected of a crime – no matter where they are in the EU. And they will have this right from the first stage of police questioning, as well as the right to inform their family of their situation and their consulate, if abroad.
This is the third EU directive, the third procedural rights baby that sees the light, in a series of measures to guarantee fair trial rights for citizens across Europe.
And it is truly a European area of justice in the making: wherever a citizen is in the European Union, he/she can rely on a solid set of procedural rights: a right to information – to know his rights -, a right to translation and interpretation – to understand his rights – and a right of access to a lawyer – to have his rights defended.
This is Europe doing what it does best, and bringing a real value-added to the everyday lives of Europe’s 500 million citizens.
2. Euro counterfeiting
The second area, where we have made good progress today is the fight against fraud. Ministers agreed on the Commission’s proposal to protect the euro through criminal law.
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.
A currency shared by 17 countries and 330 million people is an attractive target for criminals.
Take the example from June, when Austrian authorities, working with Europol, arrested 13 suspects and seize a total counterfeit of euros worth over EUR 300 000.
Our proposal will introduce minimum penalties – including imprisonment – for the most serious counterfeiting offences, and strengthen cross-border investigations. It will also enable the analysis of seized forgeries during judicial proceedings in order to detect further counterfeit euros in circulation.
Today's general agreement by justice ministers on the Commission’s proposal will allow discussions with the European Parliament to kick off so that the law can be adopted swiftly.
The euro is our single currency. If we don't fight collectively to protect it, nobody else will. We must make sure that crime doesn't pay.
3. Data Protection Reform
Now, let me come to data protection.
Almost two years ago, we put a text on the table that will modernise Europe’s data protection rules. It is a good text. And for two years now we have been pouring over every detail of it. The world is watching us.
The reason? Data protection is important. This reform is very important.
Let us not forget the economic impact of this proposal. Data is currency of today's digital economy: 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.
We have already made considerable progress. But it is now time to translate political commitments into concrete action.
Last month, President Barroso made it crystal clear in his State of the Union address that making swift progress on the data protection reform proposal is of the utmost importance, both for businesses and citizens. Our discussion in the Council today, as well as the planned European Parliament LIBE Committee vote on the 21 October, will be important steps towards finalising this important proposal swiftly.
Today we took a good step as Ministers agreed on one of the key building blocks of our proposal the one-stop shop. The idea behind it is simplification.
We are making it simpler for citizens – who will only have to deal with the data protection authority in their member state, in their own language - so they don’t have to get on a flight to Dublin to plead their case, as the Austrian student May Schrems has to do today.
And we are making it simpler for businesses: companies established and operating in several Member States will only have to deal with a single national data protection authority, in the country where they have their base: 1 interlocutor, not 28.
Data protection authorities will be reinforced; they will become authorities with teeth. And they will act as a team dealing with cross-border services. This will avoid duplication, save resources and ensure quicker investigations and decisions at EU level.
The text we have agreed on today will ensure that data protection authorities will always have the opportunity and the obligation to listen to each other and work together to apply one set of consistent rules for the entire Union.
Today's agreement on this key measure paves the wave to agreement on the remaining issues.
4. 'Assises de la Justice'
That's what we did today laying down further building blocks towards the completion of a European area of justice. And we want to continue along this path. For that we need a clear vision of where Europe's justice policy will go next, or should go next. As some may be thinking about an "end of a mandate", we are thinking about the beginning of a new vision for Europe's justice policy. It is the unique chance for everyone interested to help shaping this new vision. Today the European Commission published five discussion papers covering European civil, criminal and administrative law, as well as the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU. We are giving the possibility to everyone interested to comment on these and thereby help shaping the future of EU justice policy.
The Commission's papers and the preliminary input we receive will be discussed at a European forum on the Future of EU Justice Policy on 21 – 22 November in Brussels with distinguished speakers including national ministers, members of the European Parliament, judges from the European Court of Justice and from national Supreme Courts, academics and leading representatives of the legal profession.
Today we are therefore laying the ground for tomorrow's European justice policy.