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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Remarks by President Barroso on the future of Justice and Home affairs and the Rule of Law initiative
Strasbourg, 11 March 2014
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Commission has adopted today an important package of measures on the future of Justice and Home affairs. The Commission has proposed a new framework to strengthen the rule of law in the Member States.
Before I start this presentation, let me say some words of solidarity to our Spanish friends, ten years after the terrible terrorist attacks in Madrid.
Quiero empezar la conferencia de prensa con un recuerdo muy especial para todas las víctimas del terrorismo. Conmemoramos los diez años del terrible atentado de Madrid. Quiero transmitir la solidaridad de la Comisión europea y la mía a las familias y los amigos de las víctimas y el recuerdo permanente del dolor que recibieron.
Regarding the future of justice and home affairs in the European Union:
Over the past years, very important developments and achievements in the area of Justice and home affairs have been made.
We have come a long way in the last fifteen years since Tampere, The Hague and the Stockholm programmes. With the Lisbon Treaty, the justice and home affairs policies are now central policies of the European Union. They have acted more than ever before to facilitate the daily lives of citizens and enterprises and to uphold rights, freedoms, justice and security in the European Union.
We have also witnessed a number of difficult situations, where we had to find answers to new challenges with regard to the respect of the rule of law in certain Member States or where confronted with the tragedies and migratory pressure at our external borders.
The Commission has responded effectively and delivered answers to pressing common challenges.
The EU's five-year Stockholm programme and the related action plan will come to an end on 1 December this year.
Today, with the presentation of our ideas and top priorities beyond 2014 we are giving our contribution and vision in the areas of justice and home affairs to the June European Council, which will adopt strategic guidelines for the future.
In our vision we have identified main challenges and priority actions to address these challenges. We are not any more in a phase of establishing long programmes or lists of actions but in the phase of giving orientations for the future.
From a substantial point of view, key principles, such as the need for consolidation and focus on implementation, the importance of mutual recognition, the use of new technologies, like e-justice or Smart Borders and the link between internal and external aspects of Home Affairs and Justice policies, should be at the basis of the Commission action.
In a moment Vice-President Reding and Commissioner Malmström will present in more details the content of the two communications. I want to thank them very sincerely for the great work they have been doing - together with their cabinets and services - in putting together the effort on the fields of justice and security and, generally speaking, of citizenship.
Let's also speak about the Rule of Law initiative:
As you remember, in the State of the Union address last September, I pointed to the need for a better developed set of instruments allowing the EU to intervene in cases of serious and systemic threats to the rule of law in a Member State.
The European Union has been confronted in the past years with this kind of situations. And every time there has been a threat or a potential threat to the rule of law in one of our Member States, all institutions have turned to the Commission and asked us to react. The Commission has been seen as the institution able to apply a legal, objective and non-politicised approach using both the political persuasion and the legal instruments of the Treaties.
The new Framework that we are presenting today consolidates this experience.
This experience has shown that current instruments such as infringement procedures are not always fitted to be used in these situations and that before activating what we have called the "nuclear option" of Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union, something is missing.
And this is what we are proposing now: a new framework, in the context of the Commission competences as provided for by the existing Treaties, that describes how the Commission will act when confronted with situations where there is the potential for a serious systemic breakdown of the rule of law.
The framework aims at establishing a dialogue with the concerned Member State in order to find solutions before preventive or sanctioning mechanisms under article 7 are used.
It will strengthen the Commission's contribution to ensure effective and equal protection of the rule of law in the EU.
By creating this new instrument we are strongly reaffirming that the rule of law is at the very heart of the Community of values that the European Union is, and that the Commission is going to play fully its role to preserve it.
Let me thank you for your attention and I will now give the floor now to Vice President Reding and to Commissioner Malmström.