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European Commission - Speech

EU Criminal Law – key to a Security Union based on fundamental rights and values

Brussels, 25 April 2016

Speech by Commissioner Jourová at the European Criminal Law Academic Network, 2016 Annual Conference, 10th Anniversary

Dear Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning,

It is an honour for me to open ECLAN's 10th anniversary ceremony in front of such a prominent panel of experts and to welcome you here in one of the Commission's buildings.

It is a timely opportunity to set out my priorities in European criminal justice policy for the years to come.

In the past months, Europe was struck in its very heart by terrorist acts and by violence. Paris, and then Brussels were targeted by dangerous criminals in a bid to destroy lives and to break down our common values of freedom and democracy.

Terrorism is a threat that affects us all.

This is why we must stay united and fight back.

Fight back against radicalisation and violence.

Fight for our freedoms and democratic values.

Taking stock of the European Agenda for Security launched one year ago, the Commission last week called for a further step: moving towards a Security Union.

While national governments will always retain primary responsibility for security, there is a role for the European Union in ensuring consistency, cooperation and exchange of information. This common European approach is also what European citizens expect from the EU. European citizens fear about their security.  

EU criminal justice policy has a key role to play in shaping a Security Union with a strong law enforcement response based on our fundamental rights and values.

To make it happen, I see five key priorities I want to achieve in the years ahead.

  • My first objective is to tackle serious cross-border crimes and threats that weaken our societies.

We need a strong law enforcement response. In order to fight terrorist financing and organised crime, we need to ensure that the Anti-Money Laundering Directive will be further reinforced to help detect and prevent terrorist financing in the first place. We also need to advance the discussion on the legislative proposals regarding foreign fighters (UN Resolution) and firearms which the Commission proposed.

But preventing terrorism starts much earlier with preventing radicalisation.

Ever since the horrible attacks on Charlie Hebdo last year, I have put a strong emphasis on fighting radicalisation in and outside prisons.

Last year we organised a high-level conference on "Criminal justice response to radicalisation". In the wake of that conference on 20 November, the Council adopted conclusions on the prevention of radicalisation.

They focus on exchanging best practices on de-radicalisation, on rehabilitation programmes and on training programmes.

To implement the conclusions, the Commission has earmarked funding to support concrete actions of Member States to combat radicalisation and violent extremism. We need to put in place de-radicalisation programmes, risk assessment tools and training of prison staff and legal practitioners. We also need to support Member States to equip our prisons better for these challenges, and I am looking at possibilities of European funding for reconstruction.

Another threat to our societies comes from incitement to hatred.

We must therefore combat hate speech and hate crime by enforcing the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia.

I am also intensifying our dialogue with IT companies, who need to speed up removal of content that is manifestly illegal and inciting violence in our societies. This is not about limiting freedom of speech. It is about upholding our laws online as we do offline!

The online world cannot be outside of our rule of law structure. Our dialogue is productive and I am convinced that we will reach a Code of Conduct beginning of June.

  • My second objective is to improve judicial cooperation .

The recent events in Paris and Brussels showed the added value of judicial cross-border cooperation. Investigators have worked together to identify and prosecute the perpetrators. Eurojust was immediately involved in both attacks a few hours after. This is only possible when working together on the basis of an EU legal framework implemented by all Member States.

The European Criminal Record Information System – ECRIS for short, was set up to exchange information on convicted criminals in Member States.

Information on past criminal convictions is crucial for the work of law enforcement and judicial authorities and this information must be shared across borders.

At the beginning of the year, we have proposed upgrading ECRIS to facilitate the exchange of information regarding third country nationals.

Once upgraded, the system will allow European authorities to swiftly identify which Member States hold criminal record information on a third country national.

In the meantime, a key focus is to monitor the proper transposition and implementation of the former 3rd pillar mutual recognition instruments by Member States.

The same goes for our laws on mutual recognition like the European Arrest Warrant or transfer of prisoners. These instruments can only work if they are fully implemented by all Member States.

We are also working on further improving our mutual recognition instruments. Confiscation and freezing of criminal assets is an important tool when combating serious crime. In a few months, we will present a new proposal that allows the full and swift recognition of a decision taken by a judge in one country into another one.

The issue of digital evidence cannot wait either. Storing, finding and collecting data and use it as evidence against criminals are issues more relevant than ever. We know that terrorists become both radicalised and plan their attacks through various virtual platforms and social media.

When the European Investigation Order comes into force in May 2017 it will provide a modern and efficient tool to cover all types of evidence.I will make it yet another of my priorities to have it fully implemented by all Member States.

But we may need to go further than that. We need to streamline and accelerate mutual legal assistance requests between national authorities.

We need to find ways to allow law enforcement agencies to access some types of data outside even where the MLA channel is not suitable or available – by contacting IT companies directly. I am now working with the Dutch Presidency who is presenting Council Conclusions on the way forward at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in June.

The increasing need for exchange of information also shows why our new data protection rules which we just adopted are so important. The new Directive will allow for smoother cooperation and exchange of information between Member States' police and judicial authorities based on a common standard of data protection. And the rules will ensure that personal data, for instance of victims or witnesses of crime, is properly protected.

The same is true for judicial cooperation and international level. My current priority is to improve the functioning of our Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement with the US.

And at the same time to underpin our law enforcement cooperation with the US with strong data protection safeguards. We will achieve this thanks to the Umbrella Agreement finalised last year, which will set high standards of data protection for data transferred across the Atlantic for law enforcement purposes.

  • My third objective is to complete our work on procedural rights and victims' rights.

The EU has made very important progress in this field. Most recently with the adoption of the Directive on safeguards for children in criminal proceedings by the Council last week. And I am working now intensively on the Directive on legal aid.

But to bring concrete results in our citizens' lives proper implementation is key!

After recent events, we have also proposed strengthening the rights of victims of terrorism. They deserve nothing less.

We will build on these procedural safeguards and address existing gaps in the near future.

My priority here is to improve the procedural safeguards related to pre-trial detention.

The lack of minimum procedural safeguards for pre-trial detention can hinder judicial cooperation.

Poor detention conditions can indeed lead to refusal of extradition under the European Arrest Warrant, as the European Court of Justice has recently made clear.

Furthermore, pre-trial detention should only be a last resort solution. We see however that it is often used too early.

Conditions in pre-trial detention are often worse than those in regular prisons.

  • My fourth objective, one of our flagship initiatives, is to establish the European Public Prosecutor's Office.

The EPPO will be have full investigatory and prosecutorial powers and operate as a single office across all participating Member States.

I am convinced that the EPPO will be a real game-changer.

We are in the final spurt in the negotiations, discussing the remaining provisions of the EPPO Regulation. My aim is to conclude the work in 2016.

And this is not one day too soon.

Too much European money is lost to fraudsters, and international fraud cases pose great difficulties today.

I also want to bring the EPPO and Eurojust closer together. This is why the Commission presented the proposal to amend the Eurojust Decision together with the proposal to establish the EPPO.

And we must not forget that for the EPPO to operate we need the law to fight fraud - the PIF directive, to be adopted. We must quickly resume our negotiations on the PIF Directive and swiftly complete the work.

  • And last but my no means least my fifth objective:

Training legal practitioners on European laws, and making data on criminal law widely available.

By 2020 we want half of all our 700.000 legal practitioners trained.

We are already halfway to reaching our goal.

Furthermore, to establish minimum rules on criminal law, we have asked Member States for clear factual evidence on the nature or effects of crimes committed on their territory.

At present however, Member States seem unable to provide us with this data.

This is why we support digitalisation of national legal systems. It will make it easier for Member States to extract relevant data.

That's not it yet.

We also find it hard to get a hold of reliable information on how Member States apply criminal law stemming from the EU Treaty.

A first step forward may be to include criminal justice in the Efficiency of Justice Scoreboard.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude, we have important challenges ahead of us.

Protecting our citizens from crime, and protecting their freedoms in the way we do it, is a delicate balance both at EU and national level.

And we need to consider the new opportunities and challenges posed by the digital age. Indeed, I see 2016 a key year for the development of a "digital criminal justice" policy.

I am confident that thanks to your expertise and support, we can work together to advance the European Area of Justice based on fundamental rights and mutual trust.

Thank you.

SPEECH/16/1582

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