Standing up for children? The Directive on procedural safeguards for children suspected or accused in criminal proceedings

Original published on Tuesday, 22 December 2015 on EU LAW ANALYSIS

“If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.”

by Marian Wright Edelman (*)

Effective human rights protection is fundamental to any concept of fairness in the criminal justice system. Fairness, however, is relative: it may require different levels of protection in different circumstances.

Children require special measures of protection to take account of their particular vulnerability and needs (UN CRC Committee, General Comment 10, para 10). International standards confirm state obligations in this regard (e.g. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, the Council of EuropeGuidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on child-friendly justice.). The need for extra protection has also been confirmed by the ECtHR which has stated that the right to a fair trial under Article 6 requires that: “a child charged with an offence is dealt with in a manner which takes full account of his age/level of maturity and intellectual and emotional capacities and that steps are taken to promote his ability to understand and participate in the proceeding”(T v. UK, No. 24724/94, 16 December 1999, at [84]).

The Commission states that approximately 1 million children face criminal justice proceedings in the EU each year (around 12% of the total) (Commission Staff Working Document 2013). It has gathered data on child justice and its reports shows wide variability in practice and procedure between States. The EU has now agreed the text of a Directive to establish specific procedural safeguards for child suspects. This is the fifth in a series of six EU-specific standards, all in the form of Directives, which have been agreed under a Roadmap for strengthening the procedural rights in criminal proceedings (on the fourth measure, on presumption of innocence, see discussion here; on the sixth proposal, on legal aid, see discussion here). The Directives attempt to promote consistency in procedural protection within the criminal justice systems of EU Member States. Measure E of the Roadmap requires special safeguards to be created for vulnerable suspects. A Recommendation setting out procedural safeguards for vulnerable persons has already been published. This post deals with the recently agreed Directive on child suspects.

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Economic challenges and prospects of the refugee influx

THE FULL TEXT OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESEARCH SERVICE IS ACCESSIBLE HERE 

SUMMARY
The current refugee influx represents the largest population movement in Europe since World War II. Its size and complexity make it difficult to draw conclusions on the economic challenges and prospects valid for each Member State of the European Union (EU).
Many experts agree that, in the short term, the refugee influx will lead to rising costs, arising from the need to provide food, shelter and first aid. In the longer term, the refugee influx could be positive for the European economy by, for example, addressing the EU’s alarming demographic trends. Depending on their education, skills and willingness to work, refugees might improve the ratio of active workers and also contribute to innovation, entrepreneurship and GDP growth. Regarding the labour market, migrants can fill important niches both in fast-growing and declining sectors of the economy, and contribute to labour-market flexibility.
Refugee, migration and asylum policy is largely under the auspices of the Member States and intergovernmental EU policy-making. The uncontrolled mass arrival of refugees has highlighted the different views in the Member States on migration and immigration, driven by economic, social and cultural divergences and spurred the debate on a new EU migration policy.
According to the European Parliament, the EU and its Member States should target the potential gains from the current influx by, inter alia, successful economic and social integration of the refugees.

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The Fake Client: The case that bamboozled the CJEU

Original published on EU LAW ANALYSIS on Tuesday, 22 December 2015

by Steve Peers
A plucky young lawyer, fighting impossible odds. A big corporation, shamelessly manipulating the system. A vulnerable client, screwed by that same corporation. A slick corporate law firm, smugly carrying out that company’s instructions. And a quirky judge, trying to his or her best to keep order in the courtroom regardless of any shenanigans.
For over twenty years, these have been the core elements of many of John Grisham’s best-selling novels. His characters rarely leave the Southern United States – unless the plot demands a quick, sleazy journey to a Caribbean island. Could they be transplanted to Europe?
Grisham’s book Playing for Pizza is indeed set in Europe. But it’s a sports story, about a disgraced American footballer eating his way through Italy. Instead, we have the recent real life case of ‘Chain’, documented by Irish journalists Liam O’Brien and Frank Shouldice (radio version here; online story here). It contains many of the key elements of a Grisham page-turner – but with some twists worthy of his best books. (Please note that some of the allegations in their story have been disputed).
The story begins with Mr Bogdan Chain, our vulnerable client. In 2009, he began several years’ work for Atlanco Ltd, a Cypriot subsidiary of an Irish recruitment company, Atlanco Rimec – our big corporation. He was posted to several EU countries, as well as Norway, outside the EU but applying EU free movement laws. Working in different EU countries is liable to create complications from the point of view of social security, and there is complex EU legislation intended to address this issue. But it did not apply as intended in Mr. Chain’s case.
His troubles began when the Norwegian government pursued him for unpaid contributions, even though his payslips indicated that those contributions had been deducted from his pay. Then they got worse: he had a heart attack, and became unable to work. He applied to the Polish government for disability pay, which he believed he had qualified for based on his contributions. But like the Norwegians, the Polish authorities said he hadn’t made sufficient contributions – and so denied him benefits.
So did Mr. Chain go to court to challenge this? Well, he did – and he didn’t. The real Mr. Chain insists that he did not go to court. But a lawsuit against Atlanco Ltd was nonetheless instigated in his name, without his consent or knowledge. Would the case have benefited him, if he had “won” it? It’s hard to know, but in any event it’s not appropriate to bring cases without the “plaintiff’s” consent.
The so-called “Chain” case, concerning the period he worked in Romania, went first to the Cypriot courts, and was then referred to the CJEU. According to the press story, this case was indirectly related to another case then pending in Cyprus, in which Atlanco sued the Cypriot government to let it pay social insurance for its staff in Cyprus, rather than in other EU countries. Companies would prefer to pay social insurance in Cyprus because rates are low. But as a consequence, the contributions into the social security systems in other Member States are reduced; and there’s a risk (manifest in this case) that as a result of such disputes, a company’s employees end up on the hook for contributions which they thought they had made, and are denied benefits which they thought they were entitled to, just when they need them most.
We don’t have any plucky lawyers in this case, since (according to the press story), documents disclosed to a criminal investigation in Cyprus show that the same law firm was linked to both sides of the “Chain v Atlanco” case (acting for the corporate parent; that law firm denies this). But we do have plucky journalists: O’Brien and Shouldice, who came across the real Mr. Chain when researching the fake case.
That was the first Mr. Chain knew of the case brought in his name. He then informed the CJEU that he had not authorised that legal action. But the quirky judges in the Court went ahead and held a hearing anyway. There was even an Advocate-General’s opinion. By that point, however, the Cypriot authorities, after Mr. Chain had contacted them, had ensured that the case was withdrawn back in Cyprus, and therefore the CJEU too.
Recent Grisham novels have ended ambiguously, with key plot points not resolved. As things stand, that’s the case here too. According to the press story, the Atlanco group of companies has gone bust; the Irish founder of the parent company is counting his money; and the Cypriot government has opened a criminal investigation. To my knowledge, the Belgian authorities have not asked the law firm to clarify its position. And Mr. Chain still has no disability benefits.
Comments
First of all, congratulations to the journalists in this case, for an excellent work of investigative journalism. It’s fortunate that due to their efforts, the dubious nature of these proceedings came to light before the CJEU could give a judgment. But how did this case get so far in the first place?
My main focus here is the position of the Court of Justice. Was its behaviour in this case appropriate? (I should note that the Court appears to have issued no formal statement. I have asked the press office if it will do so, along with some detailed questions, but so far have had no reply. Suffice it to say that I think it’s a mistake for the Court not to comment when serious questions are raised about the conduct of its proceedings).
In my view, the Court can’t be expected to systematically check the bona fides of the parties in each case referred from national courts. The Court does not have the institutional capacity to do this, and any move to change that would subvert the nature of the preliminary ruling system, which is essentially a national procedure which is temporarily interrupted to ask the CJEU some EU law questions.  It’s the national court’s job to check that proceedings are genuine, and should remain so. Here there was obviously a slip-up in allowing the case to proceed in Cyprus, although it was corrected once the alleged impersonation came to light.
According to the journalists (in private correspondence), the CJEU and the national court had no knowledge of the documents suggesting links between the “opposing” parties in this case, until the criminal proceedings were opened recently. So neither court can be criticised on that score. But should the Court have terminated proceedings once Mr. Chain told them that he didn’t authorise the case to be brought in his name?
In my view, no, for two reasons. First of all, again we have to recall the nature of these proceedings. It’s for the national court to determine whether a case is admissible before it. Mr. Chain was effectively alleging a flaw in the national proceedings, and so the Court was right to refer him to bring a complaint at the national level instead. (The EuObserver story doesn’t mention that the Court suggested he do this, but the journalists have confirmed in private correspondence that it did).
Secondly, withdrawing the case straight away on the basis of Mr. Chain’s letter would give rise to another type of impersonation risk. To see what I mean by this, take a look at the Philip Morris case pending before the CJEU, in which the big cigarette company is challenging EU legislation on cigarette packaging and composition. An Advocate-General’s opinion in this case is due tomorrow.
It probably wouldn’t take much effort for me to find out the names of the lawyers representing Philip Morris, and to mock up some fake letterhead with a bogus signature at the bottom informing the Court of Justice that “my” client is no longer interested in pursuing this case. Someone might even have tried a stunt like this before. In light of this, it’s quite understandable that the Court would not simply dismiss the case, but wait to hear what the national court had to say.
So was the Court’s response flawless? Not at all. Mr. Chain is clearly not a huge international corporation, with the resources to pay slick corporate law firms who are fully aware of the nuances of the EU judicial system. It’s understandable that he went to the CJEU since the case had been lodged there, and was confused about how to proceed when it referred him to the national court. Keep in mind that this case was not even brought in his own legal system.
Therefore, while the CJEU should not have withdrawn the case immediately after hearing from Mr. Chain, it could have done more than just refer him to the national court. In particular, it should have told the representatives of the parties of his allegations and asked them to comment. Perhaps one or both parties would then have run for the hills, and the Court could have drawn the obvious conclusions from that. The Court of Justice should also have informed the national court of the allegations, since (as I have said already) that court was best placed to examine them, while Mr. Chain was not well placed to contact that court himself. As far as I know, it didn’t do this (this is one of the questions I asked the Court to answer).
Instead, the Court of Justice ploughed full speed ahead with a bogus case, embarrassing itself and wasting time and money. Some might even have darker suspicions about the Court’s integrity. For those reasons, the Court should swiftly issue a public admission and apology, and make the simple reforms I have suggested above.
Unlike the journalists who uncovered this fake case, I wouldn’t say that the Court was ‘complicit’ in this dubious litigation. But I believe the word ‘complacent’ is richly deserved. The EU’s citizens rightly expect better from the Court.

The New EU General Data Protection Regulation – A First Assessment

Original published on the European Academy for Freedom of Information and Data Protection  site (EAID)

by Peter SCHAAR

The results of the trilogue of the EU institutions (European Parliament, Commission and Council) on the data protection reform package (SEE BELOW)  is an important milestone on the way into the global information society. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will replace 28 different data protection laws of the Member States.

The reach of the new legal framework extends beyond the European Union. Even companies with headquarters outside the EU will have to comply with the GDPR so far they are doing business in EU Member States and process data generated here (article 3 para. 2). Compliance with the rules is monitored by independent data protection authorities, which all have in future same, effective sanction powers.

In cases of serious infringements they may impose fines up to up to 4% of the global annual turnover against the respective companies (art. 79). It has to be highlighted, that a number of last minute attempts have failed to mitigate or weaken the new privacy requirements in central points, such as on scope of the regulation or the purpose limitation rules.

Nevertheless, there are also areas where the result is less positive than hoped for. Thus, the EP has not been completely successful in the requirements on individual consent to the processing of personal data (‚the data subject’s consent‘ means any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of his or her wishes by which the data subject, either by a statement or by a clear affirmative, signifies agreement to personal data relating to them being processed“ – article 4 para 8). Explicit consent is only required if consent refers to „special categories of personal data“ (article 9) – such as health data or genetic information. Also the rules on profiling lag behind the demands of privacy advocates. The relevant provisions are limited to decisions based solely on automated processing, which produce legal effects concerning the data subject or similarly significantly affects him or her (article 20).

During the negotiations, critics – in particular from Germany – complained the GDPR would weaken or undermine the data protection requirements defined by national law.  Today we can say, this fear did not realize, at least in general.

Only in specific areas the new legal requirements are lagging behind the present national laws, for example with regard to the more stringent data protection provisions for Internet services of the German Telemedia Act.  On the other hand, the German data protection level is just here high only in theory, but not de facto.

This became evident from the example Facebook: German data protection authorities have failed with lawsuits against the company whose European headquarters is located in Dublin – to undertake to comply with the German data protection rules.

However, every company that does business in Europe in future must comply with the new single European data protection law. This is real progress, even if the GDPR in certain areas lagging behind the national law.

In addition, there are other areas – such as the Federal Citizens Registration Act – where data protection requirements of new EU regulation are stricter than the present German legislature.

The unconditional dissemination of public register data on request to everybody is not compatible any more with European law and must be terminated.

Light and shadow also for the rules on the internal data protection officer (DPO). On one hand, article 35 obliges public authorities and government agencies – except for courts acting in their judicial capacity – to designate a DPO.  Also those private companies have to designate a DPO, whose „core activities consist of processing operations which, by virtue of their nature, their scope and/or their purposes, require regular and sistematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale“ or with core activities consisting „of processing on a large scale of special categories of  data pursuant to Article 9 and data relating to criminal convictions and offences“.

However, the significantly more stringent requirements of the German Federal Data Protection Act on DPOs have not completely been included in the GDPR. At least the adopted text allows the national legislators to stick to the mandatory designation of DPO (article 35 (4): „in cases other than those referred to in paragraph 1, the controller or processor … may or, where required by Union or Member State law shall, designate a data protection officer …“) .

Even if, as expected, the provisions now adopted – the GDPR and the Directive on data protection for police and justice – will soon pass the formal EU legislative procedure, a lot of work has still to be done at European and at national level prior to their entry into force in 2018.

  • At EU level the compatibility of other legal provisions with the GDPR has to be reviewed. This particularly applies to the directive on data protection in electronic communications („ePrivacy Directive“).
  • Governments and parliaments of the Member States are requested to review their national law. This applies in particular for Germany with its numerous sector specific data protection provisions. Many laws need to be revised, some need to be eliminated.
  • A special mission coming to the national legislators is the processing of personal data in the employment context. Article 82 GDPR provides the national legislators with  competence to regulate the handling of employee data in detail. („Member States may, by law or by collective agreements, provide for more specific rules to ensure the protection of the rights and freedoms in respect of the processing of employees‘ personal data in the employment context, …“).
  • National regulators have also to deal with the question of how far the legal provisions for data processing for the purposes of prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offenses or the execution of criminal penalties need to be adapted to the requirements of the new Data Protection Directive for police and justice.
  • Finally, businesses and public authorities have to adapt their practices to the new rules. New processes and procedures have to be designed, existing procedures need to be changed …

The European Academy for Freedom of Information and Data Protection (EAID), Berlin, will focus in the coming years on the impact of new EU data protection rules. For 2016 we are planning workshops for decision-makers in business, politics and administration on implementation of the new EU rules and on needs for revision of national legislation.

READ MORE ON THE DATA PROTECTION REFORM PACKAGE:

The text of the Draft Regulation as agreed is accessible HERE  (204 Pages !)
The text of the Multicolumn Table (with the positions of the three institutions) of the Draft REGULATION is here (671 pages !)
The text of the Draft Directive (data protection in the law enforcement sector) as agreed is accessible here ( 102 pages)
The text of the Multicolumn Table with the position of the three institutions on the Draft DIRECTIVE  is accessible here (271 pages !)

Zakharov v Russia: Mass Surveillance and the European Court of Human Rights

Reblogged also by EU LAW ANALYSIS on Wednesday, 16 December with permission from the IALS Information Lawand Policy Centre blog

by Lorna Woods, (*) 

Introduction 

The European Court of Human Rights has heard numerous challenges to surveillance regimes, both individual and mass surveillance, with mixed results over the years.   Following the Snowden revelations, the question would be whether the ECtHR would take a hard line particularly as regards mass surveillance, given its suggestion in Kennedy that indiscriminate acquisition of vast amounts of data should not be permissible. Other human rights bodies have condemned this sort of practice, as can be seen by the UN Resolution 68/167 the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age. Even within the EU there has been concern as can be seen in cases such as Digital Rights Ireland (discussed here) and more recently in Schrems (discussed here). The Human Rights Court has now begun to answer this question, in the Grand Chamber judgment in Zakharov v. Russia(47143/06), handed down on December 4 2015.

Facts

Zakharov, a publisher and a chairman of an NGO campaigning for media freedom and journalists’ rights, sought to challenge the Russian system for permitting surveillance in the interests of crime prevention and national security. Z claimed that the privacy of his communications across mobile networks was infringed as the Russian State, by virtue of Order No. 70, had required the network operators to install equipment which permitted the Federal Security Service to intercept all telephone communications without prior judicial authorisation.

This facilitated blanket interception of mobile communications. Attempts to challenge this and to ensure that access to communications was restricted to authorised personnel were unsuccessful at national level. The matter was brought before the European Court of Human Rights. He argued that the laws relating to monitoring infringe his right to private life under Article 8; that parts of these laws are not accessible; and that there are no effective remedies (thus also infringing Art. 13 ECHR).

Judgment

The first question was whether the case was admissible. The Court will usually not rule on questions in abstracto, but rather on the application of rules to a particular situation. This makes challenges to the existence of a system, rather than its use, problematic. The Court has long recognised that secret surveillance can give rise to particular features that may justify a different approach. Problematically, there were two lines of case law, one of which required the applicant to show a ‘reasonable likelihood’ that the security services had intercepted the applicant’s communications (Esbester) and which favoured the Government’s position, and the other which suggested the menace provided by a secret surveillance system was sufficient (Klass) and which favoured the applicant.

The Court took the opportunity to try to resolve these potentially conflicting decisions, developing its reasoning in Kennedy. It accepted the principle that legislation can be challenged subject to two conditions: the applicant potentially falls within the scope of the system; and the level of remedies available. This gives the Court a form of decision matrix in which a range of factual circumstances can be assessed. Where there are no effective remedies, the menace argument set out in its ruling in Klass would be accepted.

Crucially, even where there are remedies, an applicant can still challenge the legislation if ‘due to his personal situation, he is potentially at risk of being subjected to such measures’ [para 171]. This requirement of ‘potentially at risk’ seems lower than the ‘reasonable likelihood’ test in the earlier case of Esbester. The conditions were satisfied in this case as it has been recognised that mobile communications fall within ‘private life’ and ‘correspondence’ (see Liberty, para 56, cited here para 173).

This brought the Court to consider whether the intrusion could be justified. Re-iterating the well-established principles that, to be justified, any interference must be in accordance with the law, pursue a legitimate aim listed in Article 8(2) and be necessary in a democratic society, the Court considered each in turn.

The requirement of lawfulness has a double aspect, formal and qualitative. The challenged measure must be based in domestic law, but it must also be accessible to the person concerned and be foreseeable as to its effects (see e.g Rotaru). While these principles are generally applicable to all cases under Article 8 (and applied analogously in other rights, such as Articles 9, 10 and 11 ECHR), the Court noted the specificity of the situation. It stated that:

‘…. domestic law must be sufficiently clear to give citizens an adequate indication as to the circumstances in which and the conditions on which public authorities are empowered to resort to any such measures’ [para 229].

In this, the Court referred to a long body of jurisprudence relating to surveillance, which recognises the specific nature of the threats that surveillance is used to address. In the earlier case of Kennedy for example, the Court noted that ‘threats to national security may vary in character and may be unanticipated or difficult to define in advance’ [para 159].

While the precision required of national law might be lower than the normal standard, the risk of abuse and arbitrariness are clear, so the exercise of any discretion must be laid down by law both as to its scope and the manner of its exercise. It stated that ‘it would be contrary to the rule of law … for a discretion granted to the executive in the sphere of national security to be expressed in terms of unfettered power’ [para 247]. Here, the Court noted that prior judicial authorisation was an important safeguard [para 249]. The Court gave examples of minimum safeguards:

  • The nature of offences which may give rise to an interception order
  • A definition of the categories of people liable to have their telephones tapped
  • A limit on the duration of telephone tapping
  • Protections and procedures for use, storage and examination of resulting data
  • Safeguards relating to the communication of data to third parties
  • Circumstances in which data/recordings must be erased/destroyed (para 231)
  • the equipment installed by the secret services keeps no logs or records of intercepted communication, which coupled with the direct access rendered any supervisory arrangements incapable of detecting unlawful interceptions
  • the emergency procedure provided for in Russian law, which enables interception without judicial authorization, does not provide sufficient safeguards against abuse.

The Court then considered the principles for assessing whether the intrusion was ‘necessary in a democratic society’, highlighting the tension between the needs to protect society and the consequences of that society of the measures taken to protect it. The Court emphasised that it must be satisfied that there are adequate and effective guarantees against abuse.

In this oversight mechanisms are central, especially where individuals will not – given the secret and therefore unknowable nature of surveillance – be in a position to protect their own rights. The court’s preference is to entrust supervisory control to a judge. For an individual to be able to challenge surveillance retrospectively, affected individuals need either to be informed about surveillance or for individuals to be able to bring challenges on the basis of a suspicion that surveillance has taken place.

Russian legislation lacks clarity concerning the categories of people liable to have their phones tapped, specifically through the blurring of witnesses with suspects and the fact that the security services have a very wide discretion. The provisions regarding discontinuation of surveillance are omitted in the case of the security services. The provisions regarding the storage and destruction of data allow for the retention of data which is clearly irrelevant; and as regards those charged with a criminal offence is unclear as to what happens to the material after the trial.

Notably, the domestic courts do not verify whether there is a reasonable suspicion against the person in respect of whose communications the security services have requested interception be permitted. Further, there is little assessment of whether the interception is necessary or justified: in practice it seems that the courts accept a mere reference to national security issues as being sufficient.

The details of the authorisation are also not specified, so authorisations have been granted without specifying – for example – the numbers to be interception. The Russian system, which at a technical level allows direct access, without the police and security services having to show an authorisation is particularly prone to abuse. The Court determined that the supervisory bodies were not sufficiently independent. Any effectiveness of the remedies available to challenge interception of communications is undermined by the fact that they are available only to persons who are able to submit proof of interception, knowledge and evidence of which is hard if not impossible to come by.

Comments

The Court could be seen as emphasising in its judgment by repeated reference to its earlier extensive case law on surveillance that there is nothing new here. Conversely, it could be argued that Zakharov is a Grand Chamber judgment which operates to reaffirm and highlight points made in previous judgments about the dangers of surveillance and the risk of abuse. The timing is also significant, particularly from a UK perspective. Zakharov was handed down as the draft Investigatory Powers Bill was published. Cases against the UK are pending at Strasbourg, while it follows the ECJ’s ruling in Schrems, with Davis (along with the Swedish Tele2 reference), querying whether theDigital Rights ruling applies to national data retention schemes, now pending before the ECJ (on that issue, see discussion here). The ECtHR noted the Digital Rights Ireland case in its summary of applicable law.

In setting out its framework for decisions, the Court’s requirement of ‘potentially at risk’ even when remedies are available seems lower than the ‘reasonable likelihood’ test in Esbester. The Court’s concern relates to ‘the need to ensure that the secrecy of surveillance measures does not result in the measures being effectively unchallengeable and outside the supervision of the national judicial authorities and of the Court’ [para 171]. This broad approach to standing is, as noted by Judge Dedon’s separate but concurring opinion, in marked contrast to the approach of the United States Supreme Court in Clapper where that court ‘failed to take a step forward’ (Opinion, section 4).

The reassessment of ‘victim status’ simultaneously determines standing, the question of the applicability of Article 8 and the question of whether there has been an infringement of that right. The abstract nature of the review then means that a lot falls on the determination of ‘in accordance with the law’ and consequently the question of whether the measures (rather than individual applications) are necessary in a democratic society. The leads to a close review of the system itself and the safeguards built in. Indeed, it is noteworthy that the Court did not just look at the provisions of Russian law, but also considered how they were applied in practice.

The Court seemed particularly sceptical about broadly determined definitions in the context of ‘national, military, economic or ecological security’ which confer ‘almost unlimited degree of discretion’ [para 248]. Although the system required prior judicial authorisation (noted para 259], in this case it was not sufficient counter to the breadth of the powers. So, prior judicial authorisation will not be a ‘get out of gaol free’ card for surveillance systems. There must be real oversight by the relevant authorities.

Further, the Court emphasised the need for the identification of triggering factor(s) for interception of communications, as otherwise this will lead to overbroad discretion [para 248]. Moreover, the Court stated that the national authorisation authorities must be capable of ‘verifying the existence of a reasonable suspicion against the person concerned’ [260-2], which in the context of technological access to mass communications might be difficult to satisfy. The Court also required that specific individuals or premises be identified. If it applies the same principles to mass surveillance currently operated in other European states, many systems might be hard to justify.

A further point to note relates to the technical means by which the interception was carried out. The Court was particularly critical of a system which allows the security services and the police the means to have direct access to all communications. It noted that ‘their ability to intercept the communications of a particular individual or individuals is not conditional on providing an interception authorisation to the communications service provider’ [para 268], thereby undermining any protections provided by the prior authorisation system.

Crucially, the police and security services could circumvent the requirement to demonstrate the legality of the interception [para 269]. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the equipment used does not create a log of the interceptions which again undermines the supervisory authorities’ effectiveness [para 272]. This sort of reasoning could be applied in other circumstances where police and security forces have direct technical means to access content which is not dependent on access via a service provider (e.g. hacking computers and mobiles).

In sum, not only has the Russian system been found wanting in terms of compliance with Article 8, but the Court has drawn its judgment in terms which raised questions about the validity of other systems of mass surveillance.

  • Professor of Internet Law, University of Essex

 

The Reform of Frontex: Saving Schengen at Refugees’ Expense?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS (Wednesday, 16 December 2015)

by Steve Peers

Years ago, shortly before the creation of Frontex (the EU’s border control agency) and the big EU enlargement of 2004, I discussed the future of EU borders policy with a senior German civil servant. Anxious about the forthcoming enlargement of the EU (and, in time, Schengen), his vision was that every Lithuanian or Polish border post would be jointly staffed by a friendly German.

Yesterday’s proposals from the European Commission don’t precisely reproduce that vision – but they do embody the same doubt that Member States (in the south, rather than the east) can be fully trusted to patrol the external border. Given that Frontex has been created in the meantime, it’s the agency itself – flanked by reserves from national border agencies – which would be sent in to help patrol the borders of Member States, albeit only in certain cases.

This is only one of a batch of proposals made yesterday. I’ll sum them all up, but focus on this one, as it’s the most important. Overall, though, the proposals are flawed, in two contradictory ways: they simultaneously seek to do too much in the area of border controls (where the Frontex proposal exceeds EU powers and is politically unprincipled) and too little in the area of asylum (since there is no significant attempt to address humanitarian or protection needs within the EU). In short, they seek to save the Schengen system, at the expense of refugees.

Overview

There’s a Commission communication issued yesterday which tries to sum up all the new proposals. But in an even smaller nutshell, here’s what the Commission has tabled. The flagship proposal is a Regulation which would replace the existing Frontex legislation, creating a new ‘European Border and Coast Guard’ (EBCG) consisting of national border guards plus the agency.  This is accompanied by two proposals for minor consequential amendments to the Regulations establishing the EU’s Fisheries Control Agency and Maritime Safety Agency, whose work would be coordinated with the EBCG.

Next, an amendment to the Schengen Borders Code would increase checks at the external borders on EU citizens and, to some extent, non-EU citizens, for security purposes. A fifth proposed Regulation attempts to make expulsion and readmission more effective, by creating a uniform document to be used during removals of irregular migrants to their country of origin.

There are non-binding measures on border control issues too. The Commission has adopted a Handbook for use operating the EU’s ‘Eurosur’ system of maritime surveillance. It has also released its latest regular report on the Schengen system in practice.

In the area of asylum, there’s only one proposal for a binding measure: a Decisionwhich would exempt Sweden from the EU’s system of relocation of asylum-seekers (which I previously discussed here), for a period of one year. There’s a non-binding Commission Recommendation for a voluntary humanitarian admission programme of refugees from Turkey. Finally, there are Commission reports on the operation of the ‘hotspots’ for immigration control in Greece and Italy, and on the application of the recent plan to manage asylum and migration flows coming through the Western Balkans.

The new European Border and Coast Guard

As noted already, the proposal would replace the existing legislation establishing Frontex, which was first adopted in 2004, then amended in 2007 and 2011. (I previously produced a codified text of the Regulation – see here). To compare it with the text of the rules it replaces, see the Annex to the proposal. There would be no change to the separate legislation, adopted in 2014, which regulates Frontex actions as regards maritime surveillance (see my comments on that law here).

It should be emphasised that the legislation would not apply to the UK or Ireland, because they don’t participate fully in Frontex. In fact, according to CJEU case law, they can’t participate fully in Frontex unless they join the Schengen system fully – which is hardly likely, to say the least (it would require a referendum in the UK). However, the current loose cooperation between Frontex, the UK and Ireland would be retained, particularly for joint expulsions.

These new rules would – if agreed – significantly transform the status and role of Frontex. I won’t examine every detail for now (I might come back to the finer points during or at the end of the negotiations). Rather, my focus here is on the key aspects of the proposal. Keep in mind that this proposal is far from a ‘done deal’, since it has to be approved by a qualified majority in the Council (the UK and Ireland don’t have a vote, due to their opt-out) as well as the European Parliament. Already press stories suggest that many Member States oppose some key features of the proposal.

The first key feature of the law is the relationship between Frontex and national border forces. At present, the current Regulation states that ‘the responsibility for the control and surveillance of the external borders lies with the Member States’. Frontex is merely tasked with the ‘coordination’ of national forces.

But the proposed Regulation would, in effect, promote Frontex from the job of tea lady to the role of chief executive officer. The new law would not just upgrade the EU agency itself, but create a ‘European Border and Coast Guard’ consisting of national forces and the Agency. The Agency will adopt an ‘operational and technical strategy for the European integrated border control management’. National authorities then adopt their own strategies, but they must be ‘coherent’ with the Agency’s strategy. To put the strategy into effect, the Agency will not only be ‘reinforcing, assessing and coordinating’ national forces, but also taking control of them when Member States are not able to do so effectively.

The current tasks of Frontex – training, risk analysis, research, operational support, border surveillance, and support for expulsions – would all be retained and considerably enhanced. For instance, Frontex would have powers to send liaison officers to Member States, to check the ‘vulnerability’ of external border controls, to create a ‘return office’, and to gather and analyse more personal data. It would also have powers to send staff to third countries to participate in operations, not just (as at present) liaison officers. It would have more staff and funding, as well as reserve forces from Member States to call upon for border control or joint return operations. Most significantly, it would be able to send forces to an external border, in certain cases, without a Member State’s consent.

Is this power compatible with the limits on the powers of the EU? Article 72 TFEU states that the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Title of the Treaty ‘shall not affect the exercises of the responsibilities incumbent upon Member States with regard to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security’. This Article must apply to border control as well as policing, since there was an equivalent clause in the border controls and immigration Title of the Treaty before it was merged with the policing rules by the Treaty of Lisbon. It obviously does not rob the EU of all power to adopt laws regulating borders, since Article 77 TFEU goes on to confer powers to adopt laws on ‘the checks to which persons crossing external borders are subject’ and which are ‘necessary for the gradual establishment of an integrated management system for external borders’.

But the JHA Title specifically restricts EU powers regarding intelligence agencies, and bans coercive powers for Europol (the EU police agency) and prosecutorial powers for Eurojust (the EU prosecutors’ agency). In my view these restrictions are particular applications of the general rule set out in Article 72, which must mean that while the EU can establish rules on border controls and regulate how Member States’ authorities implement them, it cannot itself replace Member States’ powers of coercion or control, or require Member States to carry out a particular operation.  This is consistent with Article 4(2) TEU, which requires the EU to respect Member States’ ‘essential state functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding internal security’, and with the requirement that any common EU defence would have to be agreed unanimously and ratified by national parliaments.

So the EU does not have the powers to send Frontex or its reserve forces to other Member States without their consent, or to require Member States to deploy those reserve forces without their consent either. Moreover, this is politically problematic for many Member States, who have historic concerns about foreign forces coming on to their territory without consent, stemming from the Cold War, the Second World War, and earlier history besides. While Frontex and its reserves should not be regarded as an ‘army’, due to their limited size and functions, they will nonetheless be perceived as such. So this aspect of the proposals is not only legally suspect, but politically ill-judged.

What to make of Frontex’s other enhanced powers, which Member States are rather more likely to accept? The key issue here is the accountability of Frontex for human rights abuses. The agency has fought a long battle with the EU Ombudsman to evade any accountability for individual cases, but it would finally lose that war, if this proposal is accepted. Individuals (or someone acting on their behalf) could make a complaint about human rights abuses, but it would be rejected if it was ‘anonymous, malicious, frivolous, vexatious, hypothetical or inaccurate’. Each complaint would go through the Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer, who would decide on admissibility and then either forward the complaint to the Frontex Executive Director or a national border force. If the complaint is well-founded it will be followed up, possibly by disciplinary action.

However, the proposed process is inadequate. The Executive Director, who will decide on the merits of admissible claims, is obviously not independent of Frontex. There is no reference to a remedy if the complainant believes that his or his complaint has been wrongly rejected as inadmissible or not well-founded. Even where Frontex considers the complaint well-founded, the remedies are ineffective: there is no reference to damages, or a possible criminal prosecution in the most outrageous cases. Furthermore, the new rules are limited in scope, as they do not apply to national border guards, who are responsible for alleged cases of illegal push-backs and assaults upon migrants. To address this, the other proposals released yesterday should be amended to require Member States to hold independent investigations with effective remedies in any case where national border guards are alleged to have acted in breach of fundamental rights.

There is also a need for specific rules regulating Frontex (and national authorities’) action as regards the ‘hotspots’ for migrants at external borders, to clarify that they are not making decisions on the merits of asylum applications or issuing return decisions, and that only national authorities can make such decisions with full respect for the safeguards and content of EU and national law. (For more on the lack of clarity regarding the ‘hotspots’, see Frances’ Webber’s analysis here).

Other new measures

The most significant other new measure is the proposal for changes to theSchengen Borders Code. At present (see codified text here), Member States must check EU citizens at the external borders (either on entry or exit), to ensure that they hold an EU Member State’s passport which is not registered as lost or stolen. But there is no obligation to check them in security databases, except on a ‘non-systematic basis’. As for non-EU citizens, they must be more thoroughly checked on entry, including the use of security databases, but on exit the consultation is only optional, and security checks need only be carried out ‘wherever possible’.

Both sets of rules would be amended by the new proposal. EU citizens would have to be checked in security databases, both on entry and exit. But if this ‘would have a disproportionate impact on the flow of traffic’ at land and sea borders, Member States could decide to carry out such checks on a ‘targeted’ basis. There is no such derogation for air borders, which will also be subject to separate legislation (recently agreed in principle) concerning the collection of passenger records (Member States will also apply this law to internal Schengen flights). Also, the enhanced border checks won’t be recorded as such in a database, although that would happen in future if recent plans to include EU citizens in the future ‘smart borders’ rules are put into effect. As for non-EU citizens, the current derogation relating to exit will be abolished, and there will always have to be a check in security databases, regardless of any disproportionate impact on traffic.

So overall, checks on EU citizens in security databases would no longer be the exception to the rule (as at present); they would be the rule – subject to exceptions. The exceptions are relatively limited and the proposal does not accept that pressure at air borders could also be ‘disproportionate’. Surely that is a possibility, since if checks add several seconds each to a check of hundreds of disembarking passengers, a back-up could swiftly ensue. Given that data on air passenger movements will soon be recorded anyway, and that the Schengen Information System can’t be used to deny entry to EU citizens, the only practical use for the new rules would be in catching someone who was meant to be arrested, perhaps on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant, or who should be placed under surveillance. But in the latter case it might be awkward to arrange for the surveillance to start without tipping off the person concerned that it’s happening. The proposal might prove useful in detecting people subject to potential arrest due to suspicion of receiving terrorist training (see the separate recent proposal on this point), but is it really necessary for that purpose that it apply at all air borders?

Overall, it may be questionable whether any increase in security that may result from this proposal is proportionate to its impact on passenger movements. There would be a stronger case to amend the Borders Code to allow Member States to check certain flights or border crossings systematically following a risk assessment. This may give rise to concerns about discrimination, but there are already distinctions based on nationality as to who needs a visa, and it would have to be specified that all those on the particular flight must be checked – not just those who ‘appear Muslim’. Checks on all flights could only be justified if it were clear that ‘foreign fighters’ were returning to the EU via other countries too.

As for the other proposals, the Regulation on a standard travel document for expulsion would not change the substantive rules on expulsion; time will tell if it leads to non-EU countries accepting more expelled persons.

The real problem is with the lack of ambition of the asylum measures. As noted above, the only binding measure suggested yesterday would exempt Sweden from the EU’s relocation rules. This is largely a cosmetic gesture, since only a tiny fraction of the 160,000 who were meant to be relocated – which anyway is not a huge proportion of those entering Greece and Italy – have in fact been relocated. In the meantime, the capacity of Greece and other States to register migrants, process asylum applications, and ensure basic living conditions for the persons concerned is clearly under immense strain.

What the EU really needs is a new strategy to deal with these protection and humanitarian needs. Is there anything it can do to make the relocation programme work? Failing that, can it assist Member States to process asylum applications, or do more than it is doing to ensure basic living conditions are satisfied? Why the focus on empowering Frontex, and no parallel attempt to empower the EU’s asylum support agency to play a greater role to address some or all of these issues?

Furthermore, pending a full review of the EU’s Dublin system (to be completed early next year), the Commission could at least have issued a recommendation to Member States on how to apply the existing Dublin rules on family reunion, and to widen the admission of family members to admit siblings, and the relatives of EU citizens or non-EU citizens who are legally resident other than as refugees or asylum-seekers.

As Thomas Spijkerboer and Tamara Last have pointed out, there is no shortage of migration controls in the EU. The death toll of migrants and refugees has built up over the decades in which visa requirements were imposed and carriers were sanctioned for letting those without authorisation get on a flight or a ferry. Bolstering Frontex may have an impact on the management of those who arrive, but solves neither the underlying problems in the country of origin or the huge pressure placed on national asylum systems – or the human misery that accompanies it.

NE BIS IN IDEM : interesting conclusions of Advocate General BOT

Without prejudice of the future Ruling of the Court on the subject, the  Advocate General Yves BOT conclusions published yesterday (FRENCH version HERE  ) are worth reading as they try to address  for the first time the compatibility of the Schengen Acquis with the european area of freedom security and justice as newly framed by the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights 

EDC 

CONCLUSIONS DE L’AVOCAT GÉNÉRAL YVES Bot présentées le 15 décembre 2015 (1)

Affaire C‑486/14 Procédure pénale contre Piotr Kossowski

[demande de décision préjudicielle formée par le Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht Hamburg (tribunal régional supérieur de Hambourg, Allemagne)] «Renvoi préjudiciel – Espace de liberté, de sécurité et de justice – Convention d’application de l’accord de Schengen – Articles 54 et 55, paragraphe 1, sous a) – Charte des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne – Articles 50 et 52, paragraphe 1 – Principe ne bis in idem – Validité de la réserve à l’application du principe ne bis in idem – Acquis de Schengen – Principe de reconnaissance mutuelle – Confiance mutuelle – Poursuites pénales dans un autre État membre contre la même personne et en raison des mêmes faits – Notion de ‘même infraction’ – Notion de ‘jugement définitif’ – Examen au fond – Droit des victimes»

  1. La présente affaire pose, pour la première fois, la question de la validité des réserves à l’application du principe ne bis in idem, prévues à l’article 55 de la convention d’application de l’accord de Schengen (2), au regard de l’article 50 de la charte des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne (ci-après la «Charte»).
  2. En particulier, le Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht Hamburg (tribunal régional supérieur de Hambourg) demande si la possibilité offerte aux États membres, inscrite à l’article 55, paragraphe 1, sous a), de la CAAS, de ne pas appliquer ce principe lorsque les faits visés par le jugement étranger ont eu lieu soit en tout, soit en partie sur leur territoire constitue une limitation à l’article 50 de la Charte autorisée par l’article 52, paragraphe 1, de celle-ci.
  3. Cette affaire est, également, l’occasion pour la Cour de préciser sa jurisprudence sur la notion de «jugement définitif», au sens des articles 54 de la CAAS et 50 de la Charte.
  4. Dans les présentes conclusions, nous exposerons les raisons qui nous amènent à faire valoir que la réserve prévue à l’article 55, paragraphe 1, sous a), de la CAAS doit être déclarée invalide. Puis, nous expliquerons pourquoi, selon nous, le principe ne bis in idem énoncé aux articles 54 de la CAAS et 50 de la Charte doit être interprété en ce sens qu’une ordonnance de non-lieu adoptée par le ministère public et clôturant la procédure d’instruction ne peut pas être qualifiée de «jugement définitif», au sens de ces articles, lorsqu’il ressort manifestement de la motivation de celle-ci que les éléments qui constituent la substance même de la situation juridique, tels que l’audition de la victime et celle du témoin, n’ont pas été examinés par les autorités judiciaires concernées.

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The reform of the General Court: unleashing the forces of change

This post previously appeared on the “Despite our Differences” blog

by Daniel Sarmiento (*)

The reform of the General Court (doubling to two judges per Member State in three stages by 2019, with the parallel abolition of the seven-judge Civil Service Tribunal) is a reality now. The Council and the European Parliament have green-lighted a reform that is destined to become a landmark in the history of the EU’s judiciary. For good or for worse, the new General Court, the product of a constitutional reform under the cover of a reform of the Court’s Statute, is here to stay. (For the background to the change, see comments by Steve Peers here).

There are many critics of the reform, including some Member States. The supporters seemed to be for a time a silent minority, but they have successfully convinced the sceptics and the European Parliament finally gave way to the many objections being brought by MEPs, academics and even some members of the General Court. (For criticism of the change, see Laurent Pech and Alberto Alemanno here and here; on the difficult negotiations, see Steve Peers here). As for me, I raised some objections as to the principles underlying this reform. In a previous post I argued that a transformation of the EU’s judiciary like the one we are about to see required a Treaty reform. However, my objection was (and is) not based on the legality of the reform, but on the means and procedures used, which, I believe, do not reflect the importance of the measures being taken.

But the reform is now part of our lives and we should start learning how to cope with it, as lawyers, as academics, as judges or as civil servants. The Court of Justice of the European Union will undergo a momentous change, so the quicker we get used to it, the better.

The change will start, of course, at the General Court itself. Fifty-six judges are a lot of people, and they will certainly not be your average Joe. Fifty-six highly competent lawyers, chosen through a very complex and demanding procedure, both political and technical, from which not everybody comes alive or in one piece. Fifty-six judges with their armies of référendaires, outnumbering by far the référendaires of the Court of Justice, thus becoming the most numerous professional community (together with jurist-linguists) inside the Institution. And despite the huge overall number, it is possible that the power, presence and authority of each individual judge will diminish. In a 56-judge jurisdiction, individual voice is a rarity. Authority and power will depend on the ability of each judge to act efficiently, not necessarily on their intellectual prestige. In very big houses, housekeepers, not charming armchair thinkers, reign supreme.

Specialised chambers at the General Court will become a reality, too. There are already plans to have a chamber for staff-cases, but soon it will be inevitable for specialised trademark chambers to appear too. The haunting myth of a specialised competition chamber will probably be postponed, but if staff and trademark specialised chambers become a success, then the door will be open for further experiments. IP lawyers will be happy to hear this, but only if the appointment process works correctly. If judges end up taking turns in order to have a say at both the “fun” chambers and the “boring” chambers, rotations will be lethal for coherence and expertise. If référendaires end up attached to specialised chambers (and not to judges) in order to ensure a certain stability in the case law, judges might end up questioning who is running the place. But if specialised chambers are not an option, who will trust a jurisdiction with, say, fifteen three-judge chambers, to ensure the coherence of the law?

A 56-judge General Court might finally push the Court into giving away its jurisdiction in preliminary references procedures in some specific areas, as provided by Article 256.3 TFEU (the new rules require a report on this issue in two years’ time). It could make sense to have a specialised Community trademark chamber also hearing references of interpretation concerning Directive 2008/95, on the approximation of laws of the Member States relating to trade marks. And why not VAT references? The Court of Justice is still bombarded with VAT references from national courts that can perfectly be handled by the General Court. The review procedure would not be dead after all, and it could be revived in order to guarantee a certain degree of supervision over the General Court’s preliminary rulings. The inertia and dynamics of an enlarged General Court might be too powerful to stop, and we could soon find ourselves with specialised chambers at the General Court hearing preliminary references. I have no objection to that, but we should be aware of the forces that are being awakened by the current reform.

On a different note, the new General Court will have (or it certainly should have) the tools and staff to rule swiftly on a very high number of cases every year. This means that the appeals on points of law will skyrocket in the years to come. The Court of Justice has taken measures to face this challenge, and in the recent years there is a clear tendency to make good use of Article 181 of the Rules of Procedure. This provision allows the Court of Justice to strike out an appeal by way of a reasoned order if it is manifestly inadmissible or unfounded. I have a feeling that this procedure will become the standard practice when the Court of Justice handles appeals against decisions of the General court, and its use will probably develop into a sophisticated type of discretionary remedy. The Court of Justice will not be able to process the amount of appeals being brought by unhappy parties against decisions of the General Court, and therefore its practice will become more and more principled-oriented. Appeals will not become a remedy for parties, but a sort of individually-brought review procedure with the purpose of guaranteeing the unity and coherence of EU Law. In an overburdened appellate court, appeals will not be a remedy to ensure the effective legal protection of individual litigants. Once again, I have no objection to this model (in fact, it exists in many Member States), but we should all be aware of its impact. Decisions of the General Court will need to be carefully made, because the parties will hardly have another shot before the Court of Justice.

This brings me to another related point: the need of external control of EU courts. If direct actions end up being dealt in a single-instance jurisdiction, with appeals left only for principled cases carefully chosen by the Court of Justice, it will be essential for the EU to accede to the European Convention of Human Rights. Private parties will not tolerate a judicial system in which crucial decisions for their lives, welfare or property, are solved by a sole jurisdiction against whom there is only a discretionary appeal. Strasbourg scrutiny will become crucial if the EU wants to prove that its judiciary is, as it self-proclaims itself, “a complete system of legal remedies and procedures”. However, the resistance of the Court of Justice to accept the conditions of accession to the ECHR will not help when, in the near future, its appeals become more and more principled, and the judgments of the General Court more and more crucial for litigants. In an ironic twist of fate, the reform of the General Court which was pushed so hard by the former President of the Court, Vassilios Skouris, might end up becoming the Union’s fast-speed train towards accession to the ECHR, which Skouris was so concerned about.

Lastly, this reform will also force a revision of the Court of Justice of the European Union as an Institution. So far, it has been clear that the Institution and its President were one thing, and the Court of Justice, the General Court, the Civil Service Court and their respective Presidents quite a different one. The tensions between the Court of Justice and the General Court during the negotiations of the last reform have brought to the day of light the need to clear up who is in charge. A 56-judge General Court will be a very powerful player if it ever decides to act in unison. The President of the Institution, not of the Court of Justice, could have a tough time trying to find its own voice in such a crowded house. His colleagues at the Court of Justice are the ones who have elected him (and to whom he is accountable every three years), but he is the President of an Institution that also represents the 56 judges at the General Court. I can imagine the current President, a natural consensus-builder, managing successfully to represent both jurisdictions before other Institutions. However, future Presidents might not have the same abilities as the current one. If institutional malaise is to be avoided in future years, serious consideration should be given to the Court’s role as an Institution.

The reform of the General Court is the first step in the transformation of the EU’s judiciary. It will unleash the forces of change, whether we like it or not. But if those forces are wisely managed, it could be the Institution’s chance to become the judicial hegemon that many wish the Court to become. Wisdom and care, in very high doses, will be needed more than ever in the years to come.

(*) Professor of EU Law at the University Complutense de Madrid*

 

Looking forward : the new 18 months programme of the Council for the Freedom Security and justice area

The incoming new “trio” of Council Presidencies (Netherlands, Slovak and Maltese ) has just set the Council’s work programme covering the period January 2016 to June 2017 (doc .12396/15). You can read below the more relevant sections for the Freedom security and justice area related policies by including also the external dimension.
As always, in this kind of “Pravda-like” documents the most interesting messages are hidden behind the diplomatic jargon but, sometimes, even the visible part could be worth reading..

Emilio De Capitani

Introduction

This document sets out the Council’s work programme as established by the future Netherlands, Slovak and Maltese Presidencies, covering the period January 2016 to June 2017.

Now that the economy is showing signs of recovery, the Union should focus on delivering strong economic growth. At the same time it faces unprecedented challenges notably to its security and as a result of migration. Responding to these challenges requires a fundamental re-think in several policy areas. But the three Presidencies also have the opportunity to develop new policies in areas where action at the European level can bring real added value.

In establishing the Council’s work programme, the three Presidencies have been guided by the priorities of the Strategic Agenda and recent conclusions of the European Council. They have put particular emphasis on the first pillar of the strategic agenda, since inclusive, smart and sustainable growth, jobs and competitiveness remain the top priority over the next eighteen months.

In implementing this programme the three Presidencies will take into account the importance of the principles underpinning better regulation. The Council as a co-legislator has a particular responsibility for ensuring that EU regulation is of the best quality and fully respects the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality, simplicity, transparency, coherence and fundamental rights.

Better regulation will help meet the objectives set out in the Strategic Agenda. And a reduction in regulatory burdens will be an important driver for economic growth and competitiveness. The three Presidencies also note the Commission’s intention to launch a reflection on an increased role for national Parliaments in the preparation of EU decision-making.

This programme is presented in a new format. It is operational, and seeks to provide a framework for organising and programming the work of the Council over the next eighteen months. Its structure – in five pillars – follows that of the Strategic Agenda. It highlights, for each pillar, those key files and issues that the Council will need to address during the period. Equally, it does not aim to be exhaustive; the three Presidencies will ensure that the Council remains flexible and that it can respond to new developments, and that it swiftly addresses challenges that may appear.

The Presidencies acknowledge that many of the issues set out in this programme impact on each other. They will therefore ensure that all issues are handled in a way which takes full account of the wider context and of the potential impact in other sectors. Each section of the programme may involve the work of several Council configurations. The Presidencies will use every opportunity to improve the working methods of the Council in order to allow for better discussions and better results. They will also work closely with the European Parliament given its pivotal role as a co-legislator together with the Council.

Consistency of priorities across policies and institutions is crucial. The Presidencies have thus had consultations with the President of the European Council, and have ensured that this work programme reflects the Commission’s annual work programme for 2016. The Trio programme will also serve as a guide for the three Presidencies in their cooperation with other institutions on annual and multiannual programming.

(…)

  1. A Union of freedom, security and justice

 The area of freedom, security and justice will be developed on the basis of the Strategic Guidelines set out by the European Council in June 2014. The focus during the period will be on implementation, in a spirit of mutual trust, and ensuring coherence between all relevant policies and instruments, including the external aspects.

The topics of irregular migration flows and international protection remain high on the agenda and call for solidarity and responsibility from all Member States.

The Presidencies will aim at identifying gaps and explore new ways of addressing them.

Particular attention will be devoted to the “smart borders” package and the implementation of the actions identified in the Commission’s Communication on a European Agenda on migration of May 2015 and in the June and October 2015 EC conclusions, including work on the future development of the Common European Asylum System, efforts on relocation and resettlement, return and readmission, border management, stepping up the fight against human smuggling, and taking forward work in relation to legal migration.

Furthermore, the three Presidencies will work to ensure a better link between migration, security and external policy. The three Presidencies aim to make progress in the on-going legislative work concerning new management of external borders and the new Visa code.

In the field of security, further to the Commission’s Communication on a European Agenda on Security, the implementation of the Renewed EU Internal Security Strategy, is paramount.

The three Presidencies aim to have a comprehensive and integrated approach to cyber-security and cybercrime, corruption, serious and organized crime and trafficking in human beings, including for labour exploitation. The fight against terrorism remains high on the agenda of the Council.

Concerning the area of justice, the emphasis will be on consolidation and effectiveness of existing instruments in practice. The three presidencies will promote improvement of the quality of legislation, taking into account the needs of citizens, authorities and legal practitioners.

The three Presidencies will focus on progress on procedural rights in criminal proceedings as well as the continued the fight against fraud to the financial interest of the Union, including the work on the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.

As regards civil justice, work will focus on family law.

The three Presidencies will boost e-justice solutions.

Protection of human rights will be a general objective and the three Presidencies will try to take work forward on the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human rights.
Progress on the Data Protection package will be one of the priorities[1].

This priority area includes the following:

European Agenda on Migration, including:
* the Review of the Blue Card Directive and a new approach to Legal Migration
* Evaluation of and possible amendments to the Dublin Regulation
* work on an EU relocation mechanism
* Further efforts to enhance resettlement opportunities
* Proposals for strengthening the role of the European Asylum Support Office
* Effectiveness of the Schengen area
* Proposal to amend the Asylum Procedure Directive (Directive 2013/32/EU) to strengthen ‘Safe Country of Origin’ provisions
* Work related to irregular immigration, including return and readmission
* Work emanating from the Action Plan on migrant smuggling 
* proposals for enhanced protection schemes in the proximity of the EU
* Migration Action Plan with Turkey
Reinforcement of Frontex, including in the context of discussions over the development of a European Border and Coast Guard System
Smart Borders proposals, including the Entry/Exit system and Registered Traveller Programme
Implementation of the Common European Asylum System, including regulation on the international protection of unaccompanied minors
A simplified Union Visa Code and Touring visa regulations
Visa facilitation and liberalisation agreements
Enlargement of the Schengen area
Europol Regulation
Passenger Name Records directive and agreements
Operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities
Legislative proposal on firearms
Peer evaluation regarding cybercrime

The EU Agenda on Security, including
* Follow-up to the Renewed EU Internal Security Strategy, including upcoming Commission initiatives on the revision of the framework decision on terrorism, improved rules on firearms, extension of ECRIS to third country nationals and fraud on non-cash payments
* Renewed EU strategy on trafficking in human beings
* Reviewing obstacles to criminal investigations on cybercrime, notably on issues of competent jurisdiction and rules on access to evidence and information
* New EU policy cycle for organised and serious international crime
Supporting the establishment of a European Victims’ Rights Network
Data Protection Package
EU-US Data Protection Umbrella Agreement
Eurojust Regulation
European Public Prosecutor’s Office Regulation
Roadmap on strengthening procedural rights for suspects and accused persons in criminal proceedings, including notably the proposals on procedural safeguards for children and legal aid in European arrest warrant proceedings
EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights
Family law: matrimonial property regime and property consequences of registered partnerships
e-Justice
Regulation promoting the free movement of citizens and businesses by simplifying the acceptance of public documents
Rule of Law dialogue
Revision of the “Brussels II” Regulation on the Jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and matters of parental responsibility
Mutual recognition of confiscation orders
 

  1. The Union as a strong global actor

The EU’s strategic environment has changed due to globalisation and growing instabilities surrounding the EU, threatening our European values and security. Greater connectivity, competition and complexity in our global environment confront the EU with both challenges and opportunities. The EU will need to address this uncertain outlook, in which threats, challenges and opportunities coexist and EU internal and external security are increasingly intertwined.

In particular, in the EU’s neighbourhood, inherent instability has brought heightened risk.

To the east, disregard for the principles of international law has undermined the European security order and led to geopolitical tension. To the south, conflicts and human rights violations are predominant features, and have created long-lasting security, humanitarian and socio-economic challenges.

Against the background of this volatility in the broader neighbourhood, the credibility of the enlargement process and effective progress of the Western Balkans region towards the EU remains strategically important.

An “arc of instability”, stretching from Eastern Europe to the Sahel, affects the EU’s own security and threatens to undermine EU shared values and interests.

The EU must deal with emerging threats such as hybrid threats, terrorist groups with massive resources at their disposal such as ISIL/Da’esh and cyber-attacks; as well as perennial ones such as proliferation, piracy, extremism and terrorism.

 Greater human mobility has led to challenges from irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling. Universal human rights and democratic values are under attack by hostile ideologies and propaganda.

 Migration will most certainly remain high on the international agenda.

The implementation of The European Agenda on Migration, the European Council Conclusions of April, June and October 2015, the outcome of the Meeting of Heads of State or Government of September 2015, and the outcome of the Valletta-summit of 11-12 November 2015 as well as the High-level Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean/Western Balkans route of 8 October 2015, will be at the core of the Trio agenda with regard to the external aspects of migration.

 The agreed measures on migration will have to be implemented and assessed in 2016 and 2017 as some of them need a medium to long-term approach, particularly those aimed at stemming the flow of irregular migration and on tackling the root causes by reinforcing cooperation with countries of origin and transit in an integrated manner.

 On counter-terrorism the ambitious conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council of February 2015 will need to be further implemented, in particular with regard to the EU’s external counter-terrorism work, including enhanced counter-terrorism political dialogues, the action plans and capacity building projects with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

The EU response will need to include an outward looking and joined-up approach to security and diplomacy. Relevant EU policies and instruments will need to be deployed in a more strategic way, aiming at protecting and  promoting EU values and interests.

In this regard, the forthcoming EU global strategy on foreign and security policy will play a crucial role in defining our political ambitions, objectives and instruments to achieve them. The review of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the mid-term review of European Neighbourhood Instrument will be central to defining a new approach to our neighbourhood.

Differentiation will be key, ensuring that the EU’s approaches take account of partner countries’ specific situations. Effective and coherent application of EU policies relating to external action is essential, working on the basis of a comprehensive approach that links, inter alia, diplomacy, trade, energy, development, migration, human rights, and security and defence.

 This will include the further development of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as CSDP missions and operations continue to make a significant contribution to international peace and stability. EU civilian and military capabilities need to be strengthened and the CSDP better tailored to present and future challenges, including human rights considerations.

In accordance with the European Council conclusions of June 2015, the EU should further enhance cooperation, including internationally, in the field of security and defence, in close coordination with international parties such as the UN and NATO as well with the European defence industry.

 A facilitating role for the European Defence Agency is foreseen. Increased cooperation with partner organisations, greater complementarity and mutual exchange of information is key, in particular with the UN, the OSCE, NATO and the African Union in areas such as hybrid threats, maritime security, rapid reaction and cyber security.

Contributions by partners to the CSDP will continue to be encouraged. Implementation of capacity building in support of security and development with a flexible geographic scope,  as well as the development of an EU-wide strategic framework for Security Sector Reform, shared by CSDP and development cooperation policy, are also foreseen.

 Beyond the Neighbourhood, bolstering partnerships is key – in particular with likeminded actors, but also with partners of rising global and regional influence, as well as with multilateral organisations and other fora. In order to bring sufficient weight to bear, the EU must be united in defending European values and interests, human rights remaining a core value of the EU that guides and drives actions of the EU, both internal and external.

 The Americas present opportunities that need to be fully tapped. Overall, the EU has much to enable it to engage and influence in a positive way. A close and effective strategic relationship with the United States allows for close cooperation on many foreign and security policy issues. The EU will strive to strengthen mutual cooperation on trade, energy security, CSDP and data protection.

 In Asia there are tensions among regional players jostling for influence. The EU has a genuine strategic interest in promoting stability in Asia and will seek to convey a strong message of its commitment to Asia and its regional integration, including at the 11th ASEM summit to be held in July 2016. The EU will remain engaged with the countries of Central Asia, implementing the EU-Central Asia Strategy reviewed in June 2015.

 In close cooperation with African Countries, the EU will continue to work on the implementation of the EU-Africa Roadmap adopted at the 2014 summit and prepare for the next summit. Continued EU engagement will aim to prevent and address crisis situations, contribute to peace and stability and contain the growing flow of irregular migration and fight terrorism, in close cooperation with the African Union, regional organisations and international partners. The EU will continue to implement the regional strategies and accompanying action plans to contribute to the security and development of the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea and the Horn of Africa regions.

 Adapting EU relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) after 2020 (post-Cotonou) to these new global realities and challenges will be part of these political reflections.

 Global challenges will continue to feature prominently on international agenda in 2016 and 2017. It is the EU’s aim to reach an ambitious and binding climate protection agreement at the UN Framework Climate Change Convention (COP 21) in Paris, which will have to be implemented by both the EU and its partners.

The preparation of a second climate diplomacy action plan will have to be explored in the light of the international implications of the Paris agreement. Regarding the promotion of EU’s energy security it will be important to assess the implementation of the external elements of the Energy Union communication endorsed by the European Council in March 2015, in particular regarding the support of EU’s diversification efforts with Foreign Policy instruments.  

 Development policy and cooperation remain central elements of the EU’s external action. The EU will continue its work to make its development assistance more effective and targeted. In pursuing this, the EU will also strengthen the efforts to link up the development cooperation programmes of the EU and Member States though Joint Programming. The EU and its Member States will also continue its efforts to better link up its external relations tools and instruments in line with the principles of the EU’s comprehensive approach.

 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed in New York will provide a new global framework for sustainable development efforts. Consequently, the focus of the Trio Programme will be the implementation of this agenda, including on the internal EU implementation in the appropriate fora.

 The EU’s policies will need to be looked upon in line with the new Sustainable Development Goals, through a multi-stakeholder approach. Equally, fostering Policy Coherence for Development remains important to the implementation of the EU’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ambitions. In this context, the reviews of the development instruments as well as the discussions on EU-ACP relations after 2020 (post-Cotonou) are also important. 

 In a context of multiple and protracted crises, with unprecedented numbers of displaced persons, the EU will continue to contribute to the efficient delivery of humanitarian aid to those affected by conflict, instability and natural disasters. The first World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 will create momentum for innovative approaches and reinvigorating the collective responsibility of the international community in this regard.

 The Netherlands, Slovakia and Malta will work together in the Council of the European Union on a shared commitment focusing on the countries with a membership perspective, the Neighbourhood, as well as its adjacent regions, as well as the EU’s strategic partners, in support of the actions of the High Representative and the Commission.

The new Europol: no more European FBI, not yet European NSA…

by Emilio DE CAPITANI

On November 30th the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee “informally”  endorsed (by 43 votes to 5 with 4 abstentions) the text that the Council will soon adopt as “its” position on the post-Lisbon European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training (Europol).

Following the “informal” interinstitutional practice of the so-called “legislative trilogues” (particularly the so-called “early second reading” agreements), the Chair of the LIBE Committee has already addressed a letter to the President of the Permanent Representatives Committee announcing that when the Council will formally send the text to the plenary, LIBE will recommend the Council’s text be approved  without amendments in the Parliament’s second reading so that the legislative procedure will be finalized and the “informally” agreed text (after some linguistic corrections) could be published in the coming months in the Official Journal.

I have already expressed my strong personal reservations on the legitimacy of such “informal” practices, notably because they are done in secret when treaties require the transparency of legislative debates (and negotiations) also for the Council. In the Europol case the latest public texts were: the first “reading” of the EP adopted on 25 February 2014 (at the end of the previous legislature) and the “general approach” of the Council  on 5 June 2014. Ten secret “trilogues” have been held in the following 16 months until suddenly, at the end of November 2015, a draft compromise has finally emerged and has been submitted to the vote of the Coreper and of the Parliamentary committee, paving the way to the “formal” legislative procedure.

Leaving aside European procedural (and democratic) intricacies, the text agreed (see below) is far below what could have been expected after the entry into force, six years ago, of the Lisbon Treaty. Because of the confidentiality of the negotiations, it is difficult to say now if such of a low-level compromise is due to the lack of ambition of the European Parliament or, more likely, of the EU Member States.

What is evident even from a quick reading, is that most of the possible improvements resulting from the Lisbon treaty have not been agreed and even if many things have apparently changed, the most important aspects are still as they were in the pre-Lisbon era (not to say the Maastricht era) and some new worrying aspects are taking shape.

First and foremost, the revision of the most important tool for police cooperation is taking place in the absence of a comprehensive post-Lisbon legally binding framework for police cooperation, as could have been done on the basis of art.87 of the TFEU.  So, even if the new Regulation recognises that “Large-scale criminal and terrorist networks pose a significant threat to the internal security of the Union and to the safety and livelihood of its citizens”  it  considers that such “EU internal security” matters should remain framed only by the Council and the Commission with “soft law” tools like the European Internal Security Strategy or the so-called “Policy Cycle”. The problem is that these tools associate the Member States only on a voluntary basis so there is no assurance that the common goals which have been defined will be reached nor is it possible to sanction those who do not contribute as was originally planned. Even the creation of a Center of excellence pooling important technical and human resources to fight Cybercrime or Terrorism as was (at last!) recently decided remains in the form of important opportunities offered to the EU member states and not of common binding tools. Unlike Frontex which is playing an increasing role in a well settled EU binding legislative framework (Schengen Border Code and EUROSUR), Europol is still floating in an unchartered legislative framework and building its own mission as a permanent laboratory or a taxi for Member states which are willing to use it. Last but not least, relying on “soft law instruments” makes the role of the European Parliament irrelevant, even if the latter try to follow up the initiatives taken by the Council and/or the Commission (a situation which is hardly acceptable for an EU which, after Lisbon, claims to be bound by democratic principles…) with non-binding resolutions.

This aspect should be very present in the EP’s mind as it has been co-responsible of EU policies linked with police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters for six years but for inexplicable reasons it continues to accept being marginalized, as happened with this draft Regulation in which the objectives of Europol’s activity will be defined only by …the Council and the Commission (not to speak of the EU Member States which are represented on its Management Board).

Even more surprisingly the European Parliament, which is also the Budgetary authority (which finances EUROPOL with 80/90 million euros per year), does not ask to have a say on the appointment of the Director of the Agency. Even in countries (such as the USA) where there is a clear distinction between the executive and the legislature the official responsible for federal agencies should have the approval of the Congress..

Even more worrying is the way in which the management of classified informations is framed. Here the draft Regulation takes the “originator principle” as the cornerstone of everything and places private entities, third countries and EU Member States or other EU and National agencies on the same ground. Now, in a European Union which claims to be founded on the principle of the rule of law, it is the legislator who should decide under which conditions information can be classified / declassified and has to be shared in the interest of the EU regardless of the good or bad will of the “originator”. Moreover, the principle of loyal cooperation should frame relations between EU institutions, agencies and bodies so that each one of them could fulfil its constitutional role regardless of the will of the “originator”.

Under this perspective the treatment that the European Parliament has accepted in this regulation is grotesque because it has accepted to be bound by the internal security rules of ….the Council and not by legislation to be adopted on the basis of art. 15 of the TFEU (and of the Charter). The point is not who should be the winner of an inter institutional game, as much as who among the EU institutions the European citizens can trust. By abdicating to its role the EP is thus deliberately weakening its own legitimacy and the democratic principles on which the EU claims to be founded.

Another weak aspect of the new text is the absence of a real link (and interdependence) with the judicial dimension of the European Freedom Security and Justice Area. Such a link, which is vital in the member states to avoid possible abuses on the police side, is practically absent in the new regulation which makes a vague reference to administrative agreements with Eurojust and plainly ignores its possible relation to the future European Public Prosecutor  who ” shall be responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment, where appropriate in liaison with Europol, the perpetrators of, and accomplices in, offences against the Union’s financial interests,….” (art.86.2 TFEU). The point is that Europol, by claiming an increasing role in the collection and treatment of intelligence informations linked with Cybersecurity, Terrorism and PNR, is trying to become the main EU “intelligence information hub” which brings it closer to the model of an EU National Security Agency than to a European FBI as it was in its first phase.

A further weak aspect of the draft Regulation is the protection of personal data where the situation is so confused that, in a declaration attached to the text, the EP and Council already declare: “… that, following the adoption of the proposed General Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Directive for data processing in the police and justice sector, including the new, soon to be created European Data Protection Board, and in light of the announced review of Regulation (EC) No 45/2001, the different mechanisms for cooperation between the European Data Protection Supervisor and the national supervisory authorities in this field, including the Cooperation Board set up in this Regulation, should in the future be reorganised in such a way as to ensure effectiveness and consistency and avoid unnecessary duplication, without prejudice to the Commission’s right of initiative.”

Many other points may be raised, but if you are really interested, have a look at the text below (which is over 90 pages long..).

Continue reading “The new Europol: no more European FBI, not yet European NSA…”