Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be with you today to open the conference on European Citizenship and Justice. I would like to thank the Luxembourg Presidency for organising this conference. It is a very timely moment to take stock of what the status of EU citizenship has already achieved for Europeans and to exchange ideas on how to further develop EU citizenship and justice policies in the years ahead.
And what better place than the European Court of Justice to hold our debates given its pioneering role in promoting EU citizenship!
In a series of landmark judgments, the Court has made EU citizenship the fundamental status of all citizens in EU Member States. It has given more substance to the concept of EU citizenship, and has promoted the rights attached to this status.
For its part, the Commission wants to translate (abstract) rights, into concrete benefits for citizens in their daily lives. And to simplify citizens’ lives by removing obstacles they might still face when exercising their EU rights.
Take freedom of movement for example. An increasing number of EU citizens travel, work, study, do business, or retire in another Member State. This is a right that needs to be safeguarded and promoted. It is the right Europeans cherish the most and associate most closely with EU citizenship.
It brings numerous personal and economic benefits brings. Citizens benefit fully from the opportunities of the Single Market to travel, study, work, or do business in another EU country.
Let me also stress that EU law includes robust safeguards Member States can use to protect their public finances against any abuse of our free movement rights. The Court has confirmed this in a series of important judgments.
Citizens want to enjoy freedom of movement and they also want to feel protected, especially when problems arise. The Commission will continue to develop a European area of justice based on mutual trust, in order to help citizens tackle legal difficulties they may face, such as cross-border divorces, child custody or child abduction. In this mandate, we aim to review some of the rules in this area, including for instance the Brussels IIa Regulation on matrimonial and parental responsibility matters.
In the field of criminal justice, the Commission has sought to protect victims of crimes and promote fair trials for defendants.
Victims of crimes often feel vulnerable and seek support. The Victims’ Rights Directive, adopted in 2012, will enter into force on 16 November 2015. It will protect and support millions of victims in Europe.
As for defendants, three new directives are being negotiated:
- one to give prosecuted children better support,
- another to improve standards in provisional legal aid and
- a third to uphold presumption of innocence – which is a crucial principle of fairness and justice.
EU Citizenship is at the heart of European Integration and can make it meaningful and concrete for individuals. This is why, as Commissioner in charge of Justice, I believe that further steps must be taken.
First, we need to promote and build up the full participation of citizens in the democratic life of the EU. At the latest European Parliament elections the clear connection between the outcome of these elections and the choice of European Commission President gave a new democratic impetus to the European decision-making process.
As President Juncker stated in his political guidelines last year, this was only a first step towards a Union of democratic change. The Commission wants build on this, to strengthen political accountability, enhance public interest and create a new sense of civic engagement in for Europe, with its common values and interests.
Second, we need to make citizens' daily lives easier, by removing practical difficulties they encounter when they exercise their EU rights.
This is precisely what I intend to do with the public consultation on EU citizenship which I will launch today. We seek to obtain a better insight of what EU citizens experience in practice and what they think can be done to simplify the exercise of their EU rights.
We will also ask them their views about EU common values, such as non-discrimination, and about how these values can be further promoted. We also hope to gather citizens' ideas about ways to facilitate and reinforce democratic engagement and participation.
This will provide the basis for the next citizenship report in 2016 We are looking forward to the participation of a broad range of stakeholders in this public consultation. And we will also be carefully looking at the Court of Justice and its contribution towards strengthening EU citizenship rights.
I would therefore like to invite all of you to contribute from your unique perspective to the reflection on how to tackle remaining obstacles and enable citizens use their EU citizenship rights to the full.
Thank you for your attention.