By the “Fundamental Rights European Experts Group” (FREE Group) (see below)
“Let’s be driven by our values and not by our fears”

1. Three years after Lisbon the objective of an EAFSJ is still far away…

Three years after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and of the European Charter of fundamental rights one can wonder if the European Union and its Member States are really committed to the objective of building the European Freedom Security and Justice Area. It is worth recalling that this objective dates back to 1997 when the Amsterdam Treaty was signed, but it has since then been substantially upgraded by the Lisbon Treaty.

After years of hard negotiations between the MS the EAFSJ has been tightly linked to a newly binding Charter of fundamental rights and some of the previous political, legal and democratic flaws have been solved. For three years the qualified majority voting has been the normal Council decision-making rule, the EP is a full co-legislator and the Commission and the European Court of Justice can fully play their role.

2. A deceiving outcome on quantitative and qualitative terms..

However notwithstanding these undeniable constitutional advances, the EU recent activity is quite deceptive both in quantitative as in qualitative terms. The EU and its MS seem still in a transitional and survival phase than in the long awaited building phase of true EAFSJ.

On quantitative aspects suffice it to note that since the beginning of the legislative term less than fifty legislative proposals have been submitted and only twenty have until now been adopted (1). If this trend continues one can wonder if the European Parliament and the Council will be able to adopt in the last 18 months of this legislature all the texts currently on the table not to speak of the proposals that the Commission has announced notably from the second half of 2013.

But much more concerning are the qualitative aspects of the institutional activity in a domain which is deemed to be now the core of the European public space.

To start with some positive aspects it is more than likely that the new Common European Asylum System foreseen by the art. 78 TFEU (and by the art.18 of the Charter) will be adopted before the end of this year (2). Progress has also been achieved with the adoption of the first measures dealing with the suspect’s rights in criminal proceedings (3) as well as in the judicial cooperation in civil matters (4) and on the establishment of new Agencies (5).

These decisions have often been taken after lengthy and painful negotiations and have been accompanied by the conclusion of international agreements as happened with the EU-US TFTP and PNR agreements. However a positive assessment on the latter is not obvious and the risks has been denounced that the final outcome could still not comply with the European Charter as well as of the European Convention of Human rights standards (6). The EP rejection of the ACTA agreement (7) has confirmed that the EU institutions often do not share the same vision of the balance to be struck between freedom and security.

European Union and Hungary: towards a new “Haider” case ?

(Original IT – translation still to be revised)

Hungary puts at risk the Union’s values?

”Such a change among the democratic frameworks that we did today was only done by revolutions before. […] Hungarians today have proved that there is a reason for democracy. […] Hungarians today overthrew a system of oligarchs who used to abuse their power.” The new government will be modest and humble. “ (1)

Two years later, these April 2010 Viktor Orban statements celebrating the Fidesz Party two thirds majority in Parliament following the Hungarian elections, sound now very different as it is the case for the economic forecasts following the 2010 Hungarian elections according to which such an electoral result would had made possible for the Hungarian Forint to recover from the crisis from which it had been barely saved in 2008 by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

Now, not only the relations between the EU and the IMF seem to have reached their lowest point (at least judging from the recent interruption of the negotiations with the Hungarian monetary authorities) but even bolder critics are emerging at European level as far as the compatibility of various initiatives of the Orban Government with fundamental rights and respect for democratic principles are concerned.

The situation is so worrying to push Guy Verohfstadt, President of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament to declare that Hungary seems not to fully respect anymore the “values” it subscribed when it joined the European Union, (“values” that the Lisbon Treaty has made even more explicit (2). Hence, according to Verohfstadt the European institutions should trigger the “alert” procedure foreseen by art. 7 par. 1 of the EU Treaty (3).

It is worth noting that such an “alert” procedure may be launched by the European Parliament itself and that it is designed to verify if “.. there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the founding values of the European Union and, if such a risk exists the Council would be entitled to formally recommend the State who has lost its bearings to come back on the rights track.

Needless to say that such an “alert procedure” is very different from the “nuclear option” laid down in the second paragraph of the article 7 where the Council could even suspend a Member State voting rights if “a serious and persistent breach” of European Values has been ascertained.

Yet the mere fact of evoking the “alert” procedure has already led the European Parliament’s political groups, to position themselves as in previous cases by mirroring the political position present at national level (situation which will make difficult to reach the third majority needed in the European Parliament to vote the request the Council to address formal recommendation to Hungary).(4)

The European Parliament debate on this issue will take place during the January Plenary session in Strasbourg then the competent parliamentary committee could start its work as far as the European Commission has shown that there is ground to proceed and the Conference of Presidents of political groups consider that a formal report should be prepared following the proposal of the ALDE President Verohfstadt.

All that having being said on procedural aspects, it is worth recalling which have been the main concerns raised by the recent Hungarian initiatives.
Continue reading “European Union and Hungary: towards a new “Haider” case ?”

Action Plan on the Stockholm Programme released by Statewatch

European Commission: Stockholm Programme: Statewatch Analysis: Action Plan on the Stockholm Programme: A bit more freedom and justice and a lot more security (pdf) by Tony Bunyan: “The “harnessing of the digital tsunami” as advocated by the EU Future Group and the surveillance society, spelt out in Statewatch’s “The Shape of Things to Come” is embedded in the Commission’s Action Plan as it is in the Stockholm Programme….There is no mention of the European Security Research Programme (ESRP). Much of the technological development is being funded under the 1.4 billion euro security research programme. See: Statewatch/TNI report: Neoconopticon: EU security-industrial complex.

Statewatch Briefing: European Commission: Action Plan on the Stockholm Programme (pdf) Comments by Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex – Full-text: Communication from the Commission: Delivering an area of freedom, security and justice for Europe’s citizens Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme (COM 171/2010, pdf)

American authorities access to banks data: challenges…and perspectives

The EU parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties provoked a certain sensation by deciding on the 4 February to suggest to the European Parliament plenary not to conclude the interim agreement which allows the Treasury Department of The United States of America to access financial data processed by SWIFT (already published in this blog).

What the press has not explained is that this negative vote does not end the transatlantic cooperation in this domain. In fact, the second paragraph of the Recommendation invites the Commission and the Council to submit proposals complying with the new legal framework established by the Treaty of Lisbon.

Indeed, a successful conclusion of the agreement signed by the Council seems to be too shy and too advanced at the same time.

Too shy since the data protection legislation applied will remain that of the Member State where the data are stored (the Netherlands) or that of the State controlling SWIFT (Belgium). Furthermore, the authority verifying the admissibility of the request will also belong to one of these two countries despite the participation of the European Union.

The transatlantic legal framework will be the Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance between the European Union and the United States of America, or if the conclusions will not be ratified, the bilateral agreements EU-Netherlands and EU-Belgium.

As the European Parliament’s rapporteur points out the type of access to financial data as foreseen by the TFTP is not admissible on the basis of the ordinary procedures applied in case of judicial cooperation in criminal matters. In this respect there is a risk to exceed the scope of the agreement by giving for granted the existence of a clarity in the field of data protection as well as police and judicial cooperation which does not exist not even between the Member States of the European Union.

In this regard, suffice to say that the European Union does not have a comprehensive legal framework to adequately face internal security challenges related to data protection in the field of security and police and judicial cooperation despite the numerous requests made by the European Parliament. This kind of solidarity has started with Schengen although it does not involve all the Member States.

 At this stage it is inevitable to recall the old saying “nemo plus juris transferre potest quam ipse habet”, i.e. the European Union cannot transfer more powers of what itself has.

Indeed, the European Union has given to the United States all it could on the basis of the current legislation on the Agreement on mutual legal assistance between the European Union and the United States of America concluded in Washington on 28 October 2009.

The Agreement foresees:

  •  The possibility to access banks’ data of natural or legal persons provided the latter are identified (see article 4 of the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance) on the basis of the European legislation in this domain (Third Directive on Money Laundering and Financial Information Regulation)
  • The possibility to extradite individuals to the United States applying the same conditions of the European Arrest Warrant
  • the possibility to create common investigation teams (on the basis of European norms concerning Europol and the Convention on Criminal Assistance).

This said, it is still technically feasible to make the transatlantic cooperation even more ambitious and make sure that the jurisprudence produced by international agreements may be translated in internal legislative measures.

To reach this goal it will then be necessary to put forward a series of simultaneous political operations which have been impossible to develop before.

Now, the first question concerns whether the American pressure will convince Member States to finally set up the necessary legal framework.

Secondly and more significantly, it is necessary to understand whether the requests put forward by the United States are compatible with the Treaty of Lisbon and the Charter on Fundamental Rights.

Thirdly, it is necessary to identify which European authority will be responsible for the Member States. For instance, one possibility to assess will be whether it would be possible to extend Eurojust and/or Europol’s powers instead of that of Dutch and Belgian authorities, ensuring at the same time loyal cooperation between the Member States.

Moreover, challenges do not only arise on this part of the Atlantic. The American negotiator is facing other equally demanding questions. For example, in case the authority in charge of the conclusions of the Agreement remains the Administration it will not be possible to seal an “executive agreement” since -by definition- it cannot modify the legal status of the American and European citizens.

What is more, an executive agreement will hardly secure the respect of those guarantees which the Charter requires avoiding hazardous appeals in front of the European and National Courts (see Karlsruhe …).

To do that it would be necessary, as in the case of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters to pass the Congress and obtain two-thirds of the votes in the Senate. Once again, as it is often the case during the challenging evolution of the European Union, with fantasy and mutual respect it will be maybe possible to build a Transatlantic area of freedom, security and justice to which the Stockholm Programme and the inter-ministerial declaration referred on 28 October.

After Lisbon a reshuffle for the consular and diplomatic protection of the EU citizens ?

Will the Treaty of Lisbon, the new Stockholm Programme and the new figure of the European Union High Representative wake up the sleeping beauty of the consular and diplomatic protection of the European citizens ?

Even the Head of State and Government have recognised that “..This right, enshrined in the Treaties, is not well publicised, and more effort is needed to ensure its full application. Targeted communication campaigns could be conducted in connection with this right…” Moreover they have invited the Commission to “..consider appropriate measures establishing coordination and cooperation necessary to facilitate consular protection in accordance with Article 23 TFUE.”

As a matter of fact not many of the half billion European citizens know that since the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty in 1994 …[e]very citizen of the Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as the nationals of that State.” (art. 23 TFUE, formerly art 20 of TEC)

It is worth recalling that under international public law, both customary and treaty law (1) , Consular and diplomatic protection should be provided by the States to their nationals.

In particular Consular protection or assistance is the provision of help and immediate assistance by a State to its nationals, both individuals and bodies, or to nationals of another State (2) when in distress. The most frequent situations are the relief and repatriation of distressed citizens of the Union, the assistance of victims of serious accident or serious illness, or of violent crime or the assistance to people arrested and detained or even the repatriation of the bodies in cases of death or catastrophes such the tragic Haiti earthquake. In these case, the State supports, by career or honorary consuls, its nationals (or non-nationals) in asserting their rights under the legal system of a foreign State, provided that the individual concerned has given his consent.

Diplomatic protection consists of the invocation by a State of the responsibility of another State for an injury caused by an internationally wrongful act of that State to a natural or legal person that is a national of the former State with a view to the implementation of such responsibility (3) . In this case, the State acts on its own behalf, to protect its rights, on an international level and through diplomatic action or other means of peaceful settlement conducted by diplomatic officials or Government representatives (4) .

It is only very recently the EU has been associated to the exercise of these functions so deeply rooted in the States sovereign functions and this it happened only during the last twenty years with the developpement of the Schengen cooperation which brought progressively together the officials of the member states administrations in activities such as the visa delivering and by implementing the same common consular instructions.

Therefore Member States remain jealously attached to these functions and even after the Lisbon Treaty they avoided a legislative role of the EU institutions by stating that “Member States shall establish the necessary rules among themselves and start the international negotiations required to secure this protection.

Even if the wording of art. 23 TFUE is adamant in conferring directly to EU citizens (5) this right (confirmed also in Article 46 of the now legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) to transform it in a reality and to enforce it before a judge, Member States should have had agreed a sound and coherent legal implementing framework.
Therefore the true fact is that since the entry into force in ’94 of art. 20 TEC only few binding acts have so far been taken by the Member States (6) and art. 1 of the first ’95 general decision (which entered into force only in 2002), covers only the consular protection .
Even in this case the approach has been minimalistic as it appears from the one page Decision of ’95 (7) which looks more anxious to avoid financial assistance, and to guarantee full repayment in cases of extreme distress, than to establish a full fledged system of assistance and alleviate suffering for EU citizens.

In the last twelve years no other bindings acts have been adopted on Consular protection and only recently, after 2006, under the pressure of the European Council and of the Commission the member states have agreed on some complementary and non-binding Guidelines on consular protection of EU citizens in third countries as well as on non-binding measures to counter crisis outside the territory of the EU (such as the notion of the “Lead State Concept” according to which a member state will on voluntary basis coordinate the consular protection in a specific third country and prepare if needed evacuation plans in case of disasters or of terrorists attacks) (8).

Moreover there are not many signs that Member States have started ” … the international negotiations required to secure this protection. “ as required by art. 23 of the TFUE (former art. 20 of the EC Treaty)

It could then be considered an understatement the European Parliament declaration according to which the right to consular and diplomatic protection has remained ‘underdeveloped’(9). The Strasbourg Assembly should then be praised as it asked to the Member States and Commission to foster the current situation by improving the current :
a) – lack of legal certainty : The generic brochure published on the Council Site and the publication on the EU Citizens passports of the art.23 TFUE (former 20 TEC) are useful but, still , could not be considered sufficient for European Citizens who can challenge this situation before the national and european Courts;
b) – lack of common EU standards. For the time being Member States are obliged not to discriminate between their own nationals and citizens of the other EU countries. Given that the standards granted are different according to the countries concerned (for instance it seems that Danes authorities, due to their constitutional duties ensure a wider protection than the one the UK authorities give) also the treatment granted for the non nationals will be different from the one they can enjoy from their own country.
c) – lack of operational transparency. The situation is unsatisfactory also as far as the practical issues are concerned as there is no simple way to know which consular post of an EU Member State could be contacted in a specific third country . Even the notion of “lead state” remain very vague even between the Member States themselves (guess how could be for one of the 180 millions of EU citizens travelling abroad ..)
d) – lack of financial solidarity. The most frequent cases are the ones of people who lost everything and need financial help. Due to the absence of common system of compensation between the member States (such as the ones who exists on the territory of the EU for other purposes) the Consular Offices are very reluctant in assuming financial burdens.

Will this unsatisfactory situation be overcome ?

After the Lisbon Treaty the EU institutions even if without legislative powers will be entitled to financially and logistically support the MS actions in the framework of EU Directives to be adopted according to art. 23 of the TFUE as evoked in the Stockholm Programme.

It is more than likely that the first proposals will mainly try to overcome the weaknesses denounced by the EP resolution (clear definition of scope of the consular protection, financial compensation system between the Member States when anticipating money for another MS citizen, creation of an Internet global site which can give the links to the “Lead State” offices in each third Countries …etc etc) even if this institution will not be involved in codecision but will be only consulted…

Moreover a positive evolution could come out from the strengthened cooperation between the MS diplomatic missions with the new European Union External Action Service as defined by the Article 35 TEU (ex Article 20 TEU) which states that :
“The diplomatic and consular missions of the Member States and the Union delegations in third countries and international conferences, and their representations to international organisations, shall cooperate in ensuring that decisions defining Union positions and actions adopted pursuant to this Chapter are complied with and implemented.
They shall step up cooperation by exchanging information and carrying out joint assessments.
They shall contribute to the implementation of the right of citizens of the Union to protection in the territory of third countries as referred to in Article 20(2)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and of the measures adopted pursuant to Article 23 of that Treaty.”

It is worth noting that some signals of this change of attitude and more positive approach from the MS diplomats could be taken in the latest Council report on the ways to respond to disasters in third countries.
In the same perspective it is also possbile that the European Parliament even if it would not play a direct legislative role will probably make full use of its budgetary powers to make more evident the european solidarity in these situations.

(1) See also Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, United Nations, Treaty Series, Vol. 500, p. 95. and Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
(2) Article 5 (e) and 8 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In particular, the latter states: ‘Upon appropriate notification to the receiving State, a consular post of the sending State may, unless the receiving State objects, exercise consular functions in the receiving State on behalf of a third State’.
(3) International Law Commission, Article 1 Draft articles on Diplomatic Protection.
(4) Provided that the requirements of diplomatic protection have been met, i.e. there has been a violation of international law for which the respondent State can be held responsible, local remedies have been exhausted and the individual concerned has the nationality of the acting State. According to Articles 46 and 45 (c) Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, only temporary and at the request of a third State not represented in the receiving State or in case of breakdown in diplomatic relations between two States, a State may, with the prior consent of a receiving State, undertake the protection of the interests of the third State and of its nationals.
(5) In a consistent line of case law, the ECJ has elaborated different aspects and consequences inherent to these treaty provisions, emphasising that “citizenship of the Union is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the member states”. See inter alia ECJ, Case C-413/99, Baumbast [2002] ECR I-7091, para. 82; for a recent assessment see Attorney General Colomer, opinion in Cases C-11/06 and 12/06, Morgan and Bucher, 20.3.2007
(6) See: 95/553/EC: Decision of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council of 19 December 1995 regarding protection for citizens of the European Union by diplomatic and consular representations ; 96/409/CSFP: Decision of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council of 25 June 1996 on the establishment of an emergency travel document (See the consolidated version from 1.1.2007)
(7) As example of a MS Ratification see FR: LUX:
(8) See Council of the European Union, Guidelines on consular protection of EU citizens in third countries, Council Doc. 10109/06, 2.6.2006(a), as adopted by the General Affairs Council during its 2736th Council meeting in Luxembourg, 12.6.2006. See Council of the European Union, Reinforcing the European Union’s emergency and crisis response capacities, Council Doc. 10551/06, Brussels, 15.6.2006(b); see also M. Barnier, For a European civil protection force: Europe aid, European Commission, Brussels, May 2006
(9) European Parliament, Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Working Document on diplomatic and consular protection for citizens of the Union in third countries, 13 June 2007, Rapporteur Ioannis Varvitsiotis
(10) “CONSULAR ASSISTANCE : Besides further refining the Lead State Concept, two papers have been studied and adopted by the Consular Affairs working group, as part of the consular guidelines already approved by the Council: an “Internal Information Strategy”, aimed at ensuring proper training of consular staff on issues derived from obligations under the treaties; and a paper on “Consular Crisis Coordination”, aimed at strengthening cooperation during consular crises affecting several Member States. The Commission will assist in the development of a “training kit” on EU-related obligations, to be used by Member States in their national training of staff to be posted abroad. Work has also been initiated to develop the next generation of European emergency travel documents (ETDs) containing new security features. A Troika meeting has been held with the US to discuss issues of common concern and possibilities for strengthened cooperation in third countries. Training sessions for Member State’s consular staff have been organised, facilitating the exchange of information and best practise between actors in the field of consular protection.”

The new powers of the Court of Justice after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty

The press release published on November 30th by the Court of Justice is worth reading by everybody interested in the European Law as well by the every individual whishing to bthe protection of its rights.
The very essential and clear text is the following:

The Treaty of Lisbon and the Court of Justice of the European Union

The Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed on 13 December 2007 by the 27 Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the Union, comes into force on 1 December 2009. It amends the two fundamental treaties – the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Community, with the latter to be known in future as the ‘Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’ (TFEU). (1)
The Treaty of Lisbon makes changes to the organisation and jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Continue reading “The new powers of the Court of Justice after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty”