Among the most promising, albeit less debated consequences linked to the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, is the new role played by the European Parliament in relation to the conclusions of international agreements in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
Until now the European Parliament has undeniably been a mere observer. Indeed, since the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, the European Council has never consulted the European Parliament on the basis of Articles 24 and 38 of the Treaty on the European Union which compels such a consultation only when strategic aspects for the Union are involved. By contrast, with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament shall become a decisive actor given that international agreements will be subject to approval by Parliament.
It may be considered that the European Parliament did not play an enhanced role in the agreements recently concluded on 28 October with the United States in the field of mutual recognition and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. However, the Parliament will, due to the Treaty of Lisbon, be involved in the conclusion of agreements such as Passenger Name Records (PNR) concerning the exchange of passengers’ data, the access to financial data handled by the inter-banking transfer system SWIFT as well as the exchange of data linked to security checks when dealing with the extension of the United States Visa Waiver Programme to European citizens belonging to countries which are not yet part of this programme.
This working programme will then be completed by the opening of the negotiations on the future transatlantic agreement in the field of data protection which will provide the framework for these complex relations.
The pressure on the European Parliament has already started with the approval of a Ministerial Declaration in Washington on 28 October which already defines the objectives that need to be reached in this field. The same declaration has been re-launched by the Conclusions of the European Union/United States Summit which took place on 3 November and will be also be part of the key themes of the Stockholm Programme which the European Council should adopt on 10 December defining the priorities of the area of freedom, security and justice for the next five years.
Will the European Parliament be capable of getting back in the running and engage, with an original dialogue, with the European Council, the European Commission and the Administration of the United States?
It is still too early to answer; however there are clear signs pointing towards a strong willingness of the Strasbourg Assembly to adequately carry out its monitoring and propulsive role acknowledged by the Treaty, rather than being a simple observer.
The proof is that in tandem with the Inter-ministerial Troika, a delegation of the parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties met high representatives of the United States Administration as well as members of the Congress to have first hand experience of the above-mentioned issues as well as of future agreements.
The initiative has been taken into serious account by the US Administration to the extent that on the 6 November Ms. Janet Napolitano, the third United States Secretary of Homeland Security, attended a hearing in Brussels held by the LIBE Committee to present the results and perspectives of the first year of the Obama Administration in relation to this delicate domain and underwent a barrage of questions that the MEPs had collated during the previous weeks.
Evidently this is not yet an original form of ‘diplomacy’ but it is getting closer to it. Within the next few months it will be possible to see the extent to which all this is just rhetoric or on the contrary -as has happened in the past- a clear position of the European Parliament will paradoxically reinforce both the negotiating role of the European Union and support a greater openness towards European needs not just by the US Administration but also by Congress.
Emilio De Capitani