Lutte contre la criminalité et le terrorisme : un meilleur accès aux preuves électroniques, mais à quelles conditions ?

La proposition de la Commission européenne sur la preuve électronique a pour effet de priver les autorités publiques des Etats membres de leurs prérogatives régaliennes et de doter les fournisseurs de services de compétences quasi-judiciaires

Dans une tribune parue dans le journal Le Monde le 27 novembre dernier un collectif de procureurs européens a appelé les législateurs nationaux à adopter la proposition de la Commission européenne relative à la preuve électronique (e-evidence).

Le souhait émis par les cosignataires de la tribune est totalement légitime, s’agissant de représentants du ministère public qui agissent au nom de l’État et défendent ainsi les intérêts de la société : le développement du monde numérique dans tous les aspects de nos vies quotidiennes impose des ajustements dans tous les domaines, y compris celui de la justice. L’accès aux informations électroniques est devenu une nécessité incontournable dans la plupart des affaires pénales, qu’elles soient liées au terrorisme ou non, et cet accès dépend du lieu d’établissement du fournisseur de services. 

Accéder plus facilement aux fournisseurs de services doit-il cependant conduire à une remise en cause des principes fondamentaux sur lesquels reposent nos systèmes judiciaires nationaux ? C’est ce que semble penser la Commission, qui envisage dans sa proposition de règlement une coopération directe en matière pénale entre les autorités compétentes d’un Etat membre et un fournisseur de services établi ou représenté dans un autre Etat membre, sans même devoir informer les autorités compétentes de l’Etat sur lequel est établi ou représenté ce fournisseur de services.

Aujourd’hui dans l’Union européenne, définir le droit et rendre la justice relèvent des fonctions régaliennes des Etats, ce qui naturellement n’empêche pas la coopération judiciaire entre eux. L’article 82 du Traité sur le fonctionnement de l’Union européenne prévoit explicitement une telle coopération et précisent que les deux colégislateurs de l’UE, le Parlement européen et le Conseil adoptent notamment les mesures visant « à faciliter la coopération entre autorités judiciaires ou équivalentes des Etats membres dans le cadre des poursuites pénales et de l’exécution des décisions ».

Il s’agit bien d’une coopération entre autorités judiciaires ou équivalentes des Etats membres, et non d’une coopération entre ces autorités et des opérateurs privés, dont les objectifs sont de nature commerciale.

Or, non seulement la Commission envisage sur la base de l’article 82 précité une telle coopération entre autorités compétentes d’un Etat membre et fournisseur de services d’un autre Etat membre, mais elle n’hésite pas, en outre, à investir ce fournisseur de services de compétences quasi-judiciaires. Ainsi, l’article 9 par. 5 de la proposition de règlement prévoit-il la possibilité de ne pas exécuter une injonction de production des preuves électroniques quand il apparaît, sur la base des seules informations contenues dans l’injonction, que celle-ci « enfreint manifestement la Charte des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne » ou qu’elle est manifestement abusive.

Le même fournisseur de services peut également ne pas exécuter l’injonction quand il considère que le respect de celle-ci « serait contraire aux lois applicables d’un pays tiers interdisant la divulgation de données concernées au motif que cela est nécessaire pour protéger les droits fondamentaux des personnes concernées ou les intérêts fondamentaux du pays tiers en matière de sécurité ou de défense nationales ».

Le fournisseur de services n’est donc plus simplement une entité commerciale, qui poursuit des intérêts qui lui sont propres, mais par la grâce de la proposition de la Commission, il devient un véritable auxiliaire de justice, doté de compétences juridiques lui permettant d’apprécier la validité de l’injonction qui lui a été adressée.

Un accès plus facile aux données électroniques pour les autorités policières et judiciaires justifie-t-il un tel abandon des compétences exclusives des autorités publiques en matière pénale, et une telle confusion entre intérêt public et intérêts privés ? N’y a-t-il pas d’autres moyens pour faciliter la coopération judiciaire dans l’espace européen de liberté, de sécurité et de justice, au sein duquel précisément est consacré le principe de confiance mutuelle ?

En premier lieu, il convient d’analyser les motifs des difficultés que rencontrent aujourd’hui les autorités policières et judiciaires des Etats membres : les fournisseurs de services sont fréquemment des compagnies régies par le droit américain, ce qui supposerait que les autorités des Etats de l’UE sollicitent une assistance auprès des autorités américaines, alors même que l’affaire pénale à traiter a le plus souvent un caractère national. La solution juridiquement correcte devrait être trouvée dans l’amélioration des traités d’assistance judiciaire mutuelle qui existant déjà : un tel traité a déjà été adopté entre les USA et l’UE en 2003.

Ces traités d’entraide judiciaire sont critiqués en raison de la lenteur des procédures mises en place. Toutefois, dans le cadre des négociations actuellement en cours au Conseil de l’Europe sur le deuxième protocole additionnel à la Convention de Budapest sur la cybercriminalité, a été provisoirement adoptée une disposition spécifique sur la « demandes d’entraide judiciaire urgente ». Cette disposition prévoit une procédure qui soit la plus rapide possible pour les demandes d’entraide effectuées en situation d’urgence, définie comme une situation « présentant un risque significatif et imminent pour la vie ou la sécurité d’une personne physique ». Parmi les exemples donnés dans le rapport explicatif figure notamment le cas où « la localisation de la victime peut être déterminée au moyen de données stockées par le fournisseur ».

 Il semble donc possible d’envisager l’amélioration du fonctionnement actuel des traités d’assistance judiciaire, qui sont les seuls instruments susceptibles de régler les épineux problèmes de conflits de lois. A cet égard, force est de constater que la proposition de la Commission ne permet pas de résoudre de tels conflits, lorsque le fournisseur de services saisi d’une injonction de production est également soumis à la loi applicable d’un pays tiers : elle prévoit en revanche un mécanisme complexe de saisine d’une juridiction de l’Etat dont dépend l’autorité émettrice de l’injonction, ce qui paraît pour le moins étonnant dans le cadre d’un conflit qui est un conflit de nature territoriale, entre la loi de l’Etat sur le territoire duquel est établi -ou représenté- le fournisseur de services, et la loi de l’Etat tiers applicable à ce même fournisseur de services.

En deuxième lieu, indépendamment d’une amélioration éventuelle des traités d’assistance judiciaire mutuelle, l’objectif visé par la Commission pourrait être atteint sans remise en cause des principes de base concernant les compétences souveraines des Etats membres : il suffit pour cela de rétablir le canal classique de coopération entre autorités judiciaires des Etats membres, en impliquant activement les autorités de l’Etat sur le territoire duquel se trouve le fournisseur de services (autorités d’exécution). Le rapport du Parlement européen, préparé par Mme Sippel, propose un mécanisme de notification de l’Etat sur le territoire duquel l’injonction devra être exécutée, simultanément à l’envoi de celle-ci au fournisseur de services. L’examen juridique de l’injonction et son exécution éventuelle relèveront de la seule appréciation de l’autorité d’exécution.  Le cas échéant, dans les cas-rares- où la personne concernée par la procédure ne réside ni sur le territoire de l’Etat d’émission, ni sur celui d’exécution de l’injonction, celle-ci devra être également adressée aux autorités du lieu de résidence de la personne, à condition naturellement que ce lieu de résidence soit connu.

Une telle notification, conforme aux prérogatives régaliennes des Etats membres aux dispositions de l’article 82 du TFUE, n’est pas antinomique avec la recherche d’efficacité de la procédure : le rapport du Parlement prévoit le même délai de 10 jours dans lequel les fournisseurs de services devront répondre aux demandes. Le respect de ce délai suppose bien entendu la pleine application du principe de confiance mutuelle, sur lequel se fonde précisément la coopération judiciaire dans l’espace européen. Une telle confiance ne peut concerner que les autorités publiques des Etats membres entre elles, et non avec des compagnies privées, que celles-ci soient vertueuses ou non.

La lutte contre la criminalité et le terrorisme à l’ère numérique peut et doit continuer à s’exercer dans un cadre juridique conçu pour assurer le plein respect des droits fondamentaux.

The European Commission’s Activation of Article 7: Better Late than Never?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS 

by Dimitry Kochenov, Professor of EU Constitutional Law at the University of Groningen; Laurent Pech, Professor of European Law at Middlesex University London; and Kim Lane Scheppele, Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton University
‘The European Union is first and foremost a Union of values and of the rule of law. The conquest of these values is the result of our history. They are the hard core of the Union’s identity and enable every citizen to identify with it. The Commission is convinced that in this Union of values it will not be necessary to apply penalties pursuant to Article 7 of the Union Treaty’ European Commission, 15 October 2003
1. What has just happened?
On Wednesday, the European Commission reacted to the continuing deterioration of the rule of law situation in Poland by (i) issuing a fourth Rule of Law Recommendation, which complements three previous Recommendations, adopted on 27 July 2016, 21 December 2016 and 27 July 2017; (ii) submitting a Reasoned Proposal for a Decision of the Council on the determination of a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law by Poland under Article 7(1) TEU and (iii) referring the Polish Law on the Ordinary Courts Organisation to the Court of Justice of the EU under Article 258 TFEU and in the context of which the Commission is raising for the first time (to the best of our knowledge) a violation of Article 19(1) TEU in combination with Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights by Poland to the extent that the Minister of Justice has been given a discretionary power to prolong the mandate of judges which have reached retirement age (a similar combination was raised in the first stage of an infringement action against Hungary in December 2015 with regard to immigration issues but this language was dropped by the time it got to the Court of Justice).
Should the Polish authorities finally decide to implement the Commission’s recommendations within three months, the Commission has indicated its readiness to ‘reconsider’ its Article 7(1) proposal (para 50 of the Commission’s fourth rule of law recommendation).
The intensity and repeated nature of Poland’s ruling party attacks on the most basic tenets of the rule of law are unprecedentedly aggressive and in obvious breach of the Polish Constitution, which in our view warrants the Commission’s action (this is not to say that Article 7(1) should not also be activated against Hungary as two of the present authors previously argued in this 2016 article). Indeed, as rightly noted by the Commission, the Polish authorities have adopted over a period of two years no less ‘than 13 laws affecting the entire structure of the justice system in Poland, impacting the Constitutional Tribunal, Supreme Court, ordinary courts, National Council for the Judiciary, prosecution service and National School of Judiciary’. It was time therefore for the Commission to defend the independence of Member State judiciaries and the rule of law (as nicely put by Maximilian Steinbeis, ‘Polish courts are our courts’, that is, ‘if the legal system in a Member State is broken, the legal system in the whole of the EU is broken’).
The media have so far only almost exclusively focused on the first ever invocation of what is often described as the EU’s ‘nuclear option’, which, however, as correctly pointed out by Frans Timmermans in his press conference announcing the Commission’s actions, is a misnomer (as we previously argued here). To put it briefly, Article 7 TEU provides for two main mechanisms: a preventive one in case of a ‘clear risk of a serious breach’ of the values common to the EU and its Member States and a sanctioning one where ‘a serious and persistent breach’ of the same values has materialised (for more detailed commentaries on the mechanics of Article 7 see hereand here).
The Commission merely initiated the preventive mechanism on Wednesday when one could however reasonably argue that we are already way beyond the stage of a ‘clear risk’ and entered ‘serious and persistent breach’ territory following the capture of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal in obvious breach both of the Polish Constitution and the Commission’s first and second rule of law recommendations (see Pech and Scheppele, January 2017). Before however offering further details on the situation in Poland, however, it may be worth offering a brief overview of Article 7’s genesis.

 

2. Genesis of Article 7

Continue reading “The European Commission’s Activation of Article 7: Better Late than Never?”

The EU and the Spanish Constitutional Crisis

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS 

by Cecilia Rizcallah, (Research Fellow at the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research affiliated both to Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles and Université libre de Bruxelles)

Background

Spain is facing, since more than a month now, a constitutional crisis because of pro-independence claims in Catalonia. These claims resulted in the holding of an independence referendum on 1 October 2017, organized by the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia’s authorities, led by its President Mr. Carles Puigdemont. According to Barcelona, 90% of the participants voted in favor of Catalonia’s independency on a turnout of 43%.

Several weeks before the holding of the referendum, the Spanish Constitutional Court held that such plebiscite was contrary to the Spanish Constitution, and it was therefore declared void by the same Court. The Spanish central Government moreover firmly condemned this act and suspended Catalonia’s autonomy, on the basis of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which allows the central Government to adopt “the necessary measures to compel regional authorities to obey the law” and, thereby, to intervene in the running of Catalonia.

EU’s Incompetency in Member States’ Internal Constitutional Affairs

During these events, a contributor to the New York Times wondered “Where is the European Union?”. The Guardian stated “As Catalonia crisis escalates, EU is nowhere to be seen”. EU authorities’ restraint can yet easily be explained, at least, from a legal point of view. Indeed, the European Union has in principle neither the competence, nor the legitimacy, to intervene in its Member States’ internal constitutional affairs. Article 4.2 TEU incidentally underlines that the EU shall respect Member States’ “national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government” and that it “shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State”. The President of the Commission, J.-C. Junker stated that it was “an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain” but however noted that in case of separation of Catalonia from Spain, the region would consequently “find itself outside of the European Union”.

Puigdemont’s  Departure for Brussels

Theoretically, the EU has thus no legal standing to intervene in the Spanish constitutional crisis. Recent events have, however, brought the EU incidentally on stage.

Mr. Puigdemont, the deposed leader of Catalan authorities, left Barcelona for Brussels several days ago, where he declared he was not intended to seek asylum and that he would return in Spain if judicial authorities so request, provided he was guaranteed conditions of a fair judicial process. In the meanwhile, the State prosecutor decided to start proceedings against Mr. Puigdemont and other officials of the ousted Catalan government for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement and demanded to the judge in charge of the processing charges to issue a European arrest warrant (hereafter EAW) for Mr. Puigdemont and four other members of his former cabinet, after they failed to appear at the High Court hearing last Thursday.  The EAW was issued by the Spanish judge last week. EU law has thus been relied upon by Spanish authorities to respond to its internal crisis, because of the departure of several Catalan officials to Brussels, which constituted, at the outset at least, nothing more than a lawful exercise of their free movement rights within the Schengen area.

Mr. Puidgemont and the other people subject to a EAW presented themselves to Belgian authorities, which decided to release them upon several conditions including the prohibition to leave the Belgian territory. A Belgian Criminal Chamber has as of now two weeks to decide if they should be surrendered to Spain or not.

The Quasi-automaticity of the European Arrest Warrant System

According to Puidgemont’s Belgian lawyer, the former Catalan leader will agree to return in Spain provided that he will be guaranteed respect of his fundamental rights, including the right to an impartial and independent trial. He moreover underlined that Puidgemont will submit itself to Belgian judicial authorities which will have to assess whether or not these conditions are met.

The system of the EAW, however, entails a quasi-automaticity of the execution by requested authorities of any Member State. Indeed, because it relies upon the principle of mutual trust between Member States, requested authorities may not, save in exceptional circumstances, control the respect by the requesting State of fundamental values of the EU, including democracy and human rights. The Council Framework Decision 2002/584 of 13 June 2002, which establishes the EAW includes a limitative list of mandatory and optional grounds for refusal which does not include a general ground for refusal based on human rights protection (Articles 3 and 4). Indeed, only specific violations or risk of violations of fundamental freedoms justify the refusal to surrender, according to the Framework Decision. As far as the right to a fair trial is concerned, the Framework Decision does not include possibilities to rebut the presumption of the existence of fair proceedings in other Member States except when the EAW results from an in abstentia decision and only under certain conditions (Article 4a).

A strong presumption of respect of EU values underlies EU criminal cooperation and the ECJ has, as of now, accepted its rebuttal on grounds of human right not included in the main text of the Framework Decision only where a serious and genuine risk of inhuman and degrading treatment existed for the convicted person in case of surrender (see the Aranyosi case, discussed here). In that respect, the lawyer of the other Catalan ministers who are already in jail has lodged a complaint for mistreatment of them, but more elements will be required to refuse the execution on the EAW on this basis.

Indeed, according to the Court of Justice, “the executing judicial authority must, initially, rely on information that is objective, reliable, specific and properly updated on the detention conditions prevailing in the issuing Member State and that demonstrates that there are deficiencies, which may be systemic or generalised, or which may affect certain groups of people, or which may affect certain places of detention”. Moreover, the domestic judge must also “make a further assessment, specific and precise, of whether there are substantial grounds to believe that the individual concerned will be exposed to that risk because of the conditions for his detention envisaged in the issuing Member State” before refusing the execution of the EAW (Aranyosi, paras 89 and 92).

Furthermore, the possibility to refuse to surrender persons convicted for political offences – which is traditionally seen as being part of the international system of protection of refugees – has been removed from the Convention on Extradition between Member States of the European Union concluded in 1996 – which is the ancestor of the current EAW system – precisely because of Member States’ duty to trust their peers’ judicial system. Interestingly, the removal of this ground for refusal had been required by Spain when it faced difficulties to obtain the extradition of Basque independentists who were seeking for protection in Belgium. The Spanish government pleaded that the ground for refusal for political infractions constituted a hurdle to criminal cooperation within the EU which was at odds with the trust that Member States should express to each other (see E. Bribosia and A. Weyembergh, “Extradition et asile: vers un espace judiciaire européen?”, R.B.D.I., 1997, pp. 69 to 98).

In the current state of EU law, no option for refusal of execution of the EAW concerning Mr. Puidgemont seems thus to exist. It is noteworthy, however, that the EAW system may, as a whole, be suspended, when the procedure provided for by Article 7 TEU is initiated if there is a (clear risk of) violation of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU on which the Union is founded, including human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Although some people have called for the initiation of this mechanism, the reliance on Article 7 is very unlikely to happen politically: it needs at least a majority of four fifths at the Council just to issue a warning, and the substantive conditions of EU values’ violations are very high.

Nonetheless, Belgium has included in its transposing legislation (Federal Law of 19 December 2003 related to the EAW) an obligatory ground of refusal – whose validity regarding EU law can seriously be put into question –  if there are valid grounds for believing that its execution would have the effect of infringing the funda­mental rights of the person concerned, as enshrined by Article 6(2) of the TEU (Art. 4, 5°). Triggering this exception will however result, in my view, in a violation of EU law by the Belgian judge since the ECJ has several times ruled that the grounds for refusal included in the Framework Decision were exhaustive and that a Member State could not rely upon its national human rights protection to refuse the execution of a EAW which respects the conditions laid down in the Framework Decision (Melloni).  Another option for the Belgian judge will be to make a reference to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling in order to ask whether, in the case at hand, the presumption of conformity with EU fundamental rights in Spain may be put aside because of the specific situation of Mr. Puidgemont.

The Quasi-Exclusion of the Asylum Right for EU Citizens

Besides asking for the refusal of his surrender to Spanish authorities, Mr. Puidgmont could – at least theoretically – seek asylum in Belgium on the basis of the Refugee Convention of 1951, which defines as refugees people with a well-founded fear of persecution for (among other things) their political opinion (Article 1.A.2).

However, Spain also requested – besides the removal of the ground for refusal to surrender a person based on the political nature of the alleged crime in the European Extradition Convention of 1996 – the enactment of Protocol No 24, on asylum for nationals of Member States of the European Union, annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam signed in 1997. This Protocol practically removes the right of EU citizens to seek asylum in other countries of the Union.

Founding itself on the purported trustful character of Member States’ political and judicial systems and the (presumed) high level of protection of fundamental rights in the EU, the Protocol states that all Member States “shall be regarded as constituting safe countries of origin in respect of each other for all legal and practical purposes in relation to asylum matters” (Art. 1). Any application for asylum made by an EU citizen in another Member State shall therefore be declared inadmissible, except if the Member State of which the applicant is a national has decided to suspend temporarily the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in time of emergency (Article 15 of the ECHR; note that it’s not possible to suspend all provisions of the ECHR on this basis) or if this Member State has been subject to a decision based on Art. 7.1. or 7.2. TEU establishing the risk or the existence of a serious and persistent breach by the Member State of EU values referred to in Art. 2 TEU.

A Member State may also decide, unilaterally, to take an asylum demand into consideration at the double condition that it immediately informs the Council and that that the application shall be dealt with on the basis of the presumption that it is manifestly unfounded.  This last derogation has been invoked by Belgium which has adopted a declaration stating that it would proceed to an individual examination of each asylum demand of a EU citizen lodged with it. To comply with EU law, it must however consider each application manifestly unfounded rendering the burden of the proof very heavy for the EU citizen asylum seeker.  Belgian alien’s law provides for an accelerated procedure for asylum when the individual comes from an EU country (Article 57/6 2 of the Belgian Aliens Act) but statistics nevertheless show that about twenty asylum demands from EU citizens where declared founded in 2013 and 2014 by Belgian authorities.

The EU Brought on Stage…  

In both cases, the refusal to execute the EAW or the granting of an asylum right to Mr. Puidgemont would result from the consideration that the Spanish judiciary does not present the basic and essential qualities of independence and impartiality to adjudicate the case related to Catalan independence activists. This observation would likely result in a major diplomatic dispute between the two countries and, more widely, in the EU. Indeed, the consideration made by Belgium and/or the ECJ that Spain would not respect fundamental values of the EU in treating the case of Catalonia would jeopardize the essential principle of mutual trust between Member States, which is relied upon in criminal, asylum but also in civil judicial cooperation. The Spanish constitutional crisis could thereby potentially call into question the whole system of cooperation in the European Area of Freedom Security and Justice.

Refuge ou asile ? La situation de Carles Pbyuigdemont en Belgique au regard du droit de l’Union européenne

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE CDRE SITE

by Henri Labayle, CDRE et Bruno Nascimbene, Université de Milan

Quoique largement circonscrite à la Belgique, l’agitation médiatique provoquée par l’arrivée à Bruxelles de Carles Puigdemont et de certains de ses proches soulève d’intéressants points de droit quant à leur situation sur le territoire d’un autre Etat membre de l’Union. Attisée par les déclarations imprudentes d’un secrétaire d’Etat belge à l’Asile et à la Migration, Theo Francken, cette présence a réveillé d’anciennes querelles entre les deux royaumes concernés tenant tout à la fois à la possibilité pour la Belgique d’accorder l’asile à l’intéressé (1) et, à défaut, de constituer un refuge face aux éventuelles poursuites intentées à son égard par les juridictions espagnoles (2).

1. La recherche d’une terre d’asile

Le suspense n’a guère duré. Après avoir géré son départ de Catalogne dans le plus grand des secrets, dans une posture digne de l’homme du 18 juin 1940 dont il porte le prénom, le président déchu du gouvernement catalan y a mis fin en déclarant qu’il n’était « pas venu ici pour demander l’asile politique ». Pourtant, son entourage comme les déclarations du secrétaire d’Etat Theo Francken, nationaliste flamand, membre du parti indépendantiste ultra-conservateur N-VA, avaient donné corps à la polémique.

a. Le choix de son avocat, d’abord, n’a rien eu d’innocent. Tout en déclarant que son client n’était pas en Belgique pour demander l’asile, ce dernier n’en a pas moins jugé utile de préciser soigneusement avoir « une expérience de plus de 30 ans avec l’extradition et l’asile politique de basques espagnols et c’est probablement sur la base de cette expérience qu’il a fait appel à moi ». Les agences de presse se sont du reste empressées de souligner qu’il avait en son temps assuré la défense du couple Luis Moreno et Raquel Garcia, réclamés en vain à la Belgique par l’Espagne en raison de leur soutien à l’organisation terroriste ETA.

Source de vives tensions entre l’Espagne et la Belgique en raison du refus de cette dernière de les extrader puis de les remettre à Madrid autant qu’à propos du débat sur leur éventuel statut de réfugié politique, le cas de ces derniers éclaire l’insistance espagnole à inscrire en 1997 un protocole à ce sujet, le fameux protocole « Aznar » joint au traité d’Amsterdam. A tout le moins donc, la symbolique du recours à un avocat ainsi spécialisé n’est pas neutre, même s’il est permis de douter de l’adresse d’un tel amalgame pour une cause se présentant comme victime de la violence de l’Etat et d’un déni de démocratie.

Dans le même temps, exprimant sans détours sa sympathie à la cause nationaliste, le secrétaire d’Etat Theo Francken n’a pas manié la langue de bois. D’abord, à travers un constat sur la situation espagnole quelque peu téméraire : « la situation en Catalogne est en train de dégénérer. On peut supposer, de manière réaliste qu’un certain nombre de Catalans vont demander l’asile en Belgique. Et ils le peuvent. La loi est là. Il pourront demander une protection et introduire une demande d’asile et on y répondra convenablement ». Ensuite en fournissant une explication à son attitude au demeurant tout aussi douteuse : « en regardant la répression de Madrid et les peines de prison envisagées, la question peut se poser de savoir s’il a encore une chance d’un jugement équitable».

La volée de critiques faisant suite à cette provocation, y compris le désaveu a minima d’un premier ministre belge passablement gêné, oblige alors à rappeler les termes du débat juridique.

b. Sur l’insistance du premier ministre espagnol de l’époque, Jose Maria Aznar, le protocole n° 24 additionnel au traité d’Amsterdam s’efforce de réduire le droit d’asile à un droit seulement offert aux ressortissants tiers. En effet, « vu le niveau de protection des droits fondamentaux et des libertés fondamentales dans les États membres de l’Union européenne, ceux-ci sont considérés comme constituant des pays d’origine sûrs les uns vis-à-vis des autres pour toutes les questions juridiques et pratiques liées aux affaires d’asile». Le protocole n° 24 fut accompagné à l’époque de la déclaration n° 48 de la Conférence, ne préjugeant pas du droit de chaque Etat membre de prendre les mesures d’organisation nécessaires au respect de la Convention de Genève. Pour sa part, la Belgique déclara alors que, tout en approuvant le protocole n° 24, « conformément à ses obligations au titre de la convention de Genève de 1951 et du protocole de New York de 1967, elle effectuera, conformément à la disposition énoncée à l’article unique, point d), de ce protocole, un examen individuel de toute demande d’asile présentée par un ressortissant d’un autre Etat membre» (déclaration n° 5).

Le HCR n’avait pas manqué alors d’émettre des critiques fermes et fondées sur la conventionnalité d’une telle option, hostile à l’idée simpliste selon laquelle l’appartenance à l’UE constituerait par principe un critère objectif et légitime de distinction du point de vue de la protection entre Etats membres de l’Union et Etats tiers (UNHCR, « Position on the proposal of the European Council concerning the treatment of asylum applications from citizens of European Union Member States », annexe à la lettre du Directeur de la Division de la protection of internationale à M. Patijn, Ministre des Affaires étrangères des Pays Bas, 3 février 1997 ; voir également UNHCR Press release 20 juin 1997). Vingt ans après, la situation des droits fondamentaux dans certains Etats membres de l’Union conforte cette critique.

Conscients de ces difficultés, les Etats membres ont alors opté pour une solution de contournement, se gardant de toute interdiction frontale du droit d’asile à propos de leurs ressortissants et préférant en retenir une approche extrêmement restrictive. Il s’agit, comme l’indique le protocole, « d’empêcher que l’asile en tant qu’institution soit utilisé à des fins autres que celles auxquelles il est destiné ».

Le traité de Lisbonne n’a modifié ce dispositif qu’à la marge, à deux précisions près. La première tient dans la disparition des déclarations formulées à Amsterdam et la seconde voit l’invocation des « valeurs » de l’Union justifier désormais l’existence du protocole puisque, par hypothèse, les Etats membres les respectent pour pénétrer et demeurer dans l’Union. Ils ne peuvent donc être sources de persécutions, sauf preuve du contraire.

c. La pratique de l’asile entre Etats membres de l’Union est donc régie aujourd’hui par le Protocole n° 24 révisé à Lisbonne, lequel constitue la lex specialis du « droit d’asile pour les ressortissants des Etats membres de l’Union européenne ». Il n’est pas indifférent de rappeler que l’ensemble du droit primaire et dérivé de l’Union de l’asile se conforme à cette logique. Le champ d’application personnel du droit d’asile selon la directive « Qualification » ne concerne que les ressortissants de pays tiers, en application de l’article 78 TFUE qui en fait un droit de ces ressortissants et s’impose à l’article 18 de la Charte dont les « explications » mentionnent spécifiquement le Protocole.

Ce dernier, outre les hypothèses qui visent une violation établie des valeurs de l’Union ou une dérogation en vertu de l’article 15 de la Convention EDH, régit l’éventuel octroi d’une protection à un citoyen de l’Union dans son article unique point d) : « si un État membre devait en décider ainsi unilatéralement en ce qui concerne la demande d’un ressortissant d’un autre État membre; dans ce cas, le Conseil est immédiatement informé; la demande est traitée sur la base de la présomption qu’elle est manifestement non fondée sans que, quel que soit le cas, le pouvoir de décision de l’État membre ne soit affecté d’aucune manière ».

Le plus grand flou règne ensuite en la matière quant à la pratique dégagée par les Etats à ce propos. On sait, par exemple qu’en France le Conseil d’Etat a dégagé une interprétation littérale du protocole Aznar à propos de citoyens roumains tout en n’écartant pas l’hypothèse d’un examen (CE, 30 décembre 2009, OFPRA c/ Cosmin, req. 305226, note Aubin, AJDA 2010). De même, l’administration française s’est-elle empressée de souligner par voie de circulaire, à l’occasion de l’adhésion de la Croatie en 2013, que le retrait de ce nouvel Etat membre de la liste des pays tiers d’origine sûrs n’entraînait aucun changement sur le plan de l’admission provisoire au titre de l’asile et du jeu de la procédure d’examen prioritaire, dans la logique du protocole Aznar.

Les choses sont beaucoup plus incertaines concernant l’Union elle-même et les doutes que l’on peut légitimement éprouver quant à la situation des droits fondamentaux dans l’Union en général comme en particulier invitent à la réserve.

En 2015, la Commission canadienne de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié fait ainsi état de la grande diversité des pratiques nationales au sein de l’Union à l’égard de ce protocole, principalement en raison des divergences portant sur la présence des Etats membres de l’Union sur les listes nationales de pays d’origine « sûrs ». Seuls la Belgique et les Pays Bas auraient, à ce jour, rendu des décisions positives de protection.

Pour ce qui est plus précisément de la Belgique, susceptible d’accueillir M. Puigdemont, si elle semble ne pas avoir renouvelé à Lisbonne sa déclaration d’Amsterdam, elle conserve néanmoins la possibilité de procéder à une évaluation des situations individuelles. Quasiment exclusivement saisie par des nouveaux Etats membres, le plus souvent à propos de la question des Roms, elle fait un usage très parcimonieux de cette possibilité puisque près d’un millier de demandes auraient été déposées depuis 2011 pour moins de quinze reconnaissances au total.

La déclaration de la Belgique, qui a certainement une valeur politique, conserve sa valeur juridique, même si elle n’a pas été répétée, comme elle aurait dû être révoquée. En tout état de cause, les Etats membres conservent le droit souverain d’accorder l’asile sur la base de leur droit interne. Ainsi, dans la Constitution d’un État membre comme l’Italie, il existe une disposition fondamentale, à l’instar du troisième paragraphe de l’article 10, qui prévoit qu’un étranger qui est effectivement empêché d’exercer ses libertés démocratiques garanties de la Constitution italienne, a le droit à l’asile sur le territoire de la République, dans les conditions prévues par la loi. Bien que l’Italie n’ait fait aucune déclaration, il n’y a aucun doute que l’Etat garde sa souveraineté quant à la concession de l’asile, aussi appelé asile constitutionnel et qui fait abstraction des obligations internationales ou de l’Union. De même, en droit français, le préambule de la Constitution de 1946 prévoit-il que« tout homme persécuté en raison de son action en faveur de la liberté a droit d’asile sur les territoires de la République ». Ces formes d’asile particulier n’ont pas été prises en considération par M. Puigdemont , la Belgique lui paraissant un Etat plus sûr ou protecteur.

En Italie, d’un autre côté, dans la jurisprudence administrative, il s’est posé également la question de ne pas expulser vers la Grèce mais aussi vers la Bulgarie, considérés comme des pays non sûrs, malgré leur statut d’Etats membres de l’Union. Les juges administratifs ont ainsi démontré, s’il y en avait besoin, que la confiance mutuelle entre pays membres, dans la réalité et pratique courante, est souvent théorique…

C’est dans ce contexte peu encourageant que l’accueil de l’ex-président catalan peut être évalué.

2. La recherche d’une terre de refuge    

Deux hypothèses se présentent alors : celle d’un accueil en bonne et due forme au plan de l’asile et celle d’une réponse à un éventuel mandat d’arrêt européen. Les dénégations de M. Puigdemont quant à son éventuelle demande de protection ne sont pas aussi catégoriques qu’il y paraît au premier abord. Il a, en effet, ouvertement évoqué des « menaces » et un « besoin de sécurité » que les autorités espagnoles ne seraient plus à même de lui assurer soit en raison de la nature des poursuites exercées à son encontre soit en ne le protégeant pas efficacement des menaces pesant sur sa personne. On retrouve là derrière ces arguments des questions très classiques du droit de l’asile dont les réponses ne sont pas sans intérêt du point de vue de la recherche d’un refuge devant le risque pénal.

a. Même s’il s’avère que la Belgique n’a pas renouvelé sa déclaration d’Amsterdam, elle se trouve placée comme tout Etat membre de l’Union devant à une double contrainte posée par le Protocole n° 24. La première est de nature procédurale et elle consiste à « informer le Conseil » de sa volonté. Nul doute qu’ici surgiront des tensions diplomatiques avec d’autres Etats membres, au premier rang desquels l’Espagne se situera, et qu’elles mettront également à rude épreuve la coalition gouvernementale gouvernant la Belgique. A en rester sur le terrain politique, les déclarations des partis nationalistes flamands sur la nécessité de soutenir « ses amis » le laissent présager. A venir sur le terrain juridique, le soulagement politique pourrait alors naître de l’impossibilité de répondre favorablement à une quelconque demande, au vu de la réalité du droit de l’Union.

La seconde contrainte est matérielle et elle consiste à renverser la présomption posée par le protocole Aznar. Le point d) de son article unique spécifie bien que « la demande est traitée sur la base de la présomption qu’elle est manifestement non fondée ». Il convient donc pour les autorités nationales saisies de renverser cette présomption pour se placer en conformité avec le droit de l’Union.

On se trouve ici dans un schéma tout à fait comparable à celui que la Cour a dégagé avec force dans l’avis 2/13relatif à l’adhésion à la Convention EDH lorsqu’elle met en relief cette « prémisse fondamentale selon laquelle chaque État membre partage avec tous les autres Etats membres, et reconnaît que ceux-ci partagent avec lui, une série de valeurs communes sur lesquelles l’Union est fondée, comme il est précisé à l’article 2 TUE. Cette prémisse implique et justifie l’existence de la confiance mutuelle entre les Etats membres dans la reconnaissance de ces valeurs et, donc, dans le respect du droit de l’Union qui les met en œuvre » (point 168). « Fondamentale » car elle « permet la création et le maintien d’un espace sans frontières intérieures. Or, ce principe impose, notamment en ce qui concerne l’espace de liberté, de sécurité et de justice, à chacun de ces Etats de considérer … que tous les autres Etats membres respectent le droit de l’Union et, tout particulièrement, les droits fondamentaux reconnus par ce droit » (point 191).

S’atteler au défi de prouver que le Royaume d’Espagne ne respecte pas les valeurs de l’Union, au point de justifier d’accorder protection à l’un de ses citoyens au prétexte que son pays lui demande des comptes de sa violation d’une légalité établie par la juridiction constitutionnelle de ce pays, ne sera donc pas aisé. Une chose est en effet de se réclamer de la démocratie et de l’exercice des droits qui y sont attachés et une autre est de faire la preuve que cet exercice est légal. Dénoncer une éventuelle « politisation de la justice espagnole et son absence d’impartialité » comme « l’injustice du gouvernement espagnol » et son « désir de vengeance » ne se paie pas seulement de mots.

Or, rien dans l’état du droit positif n’accrédite une accusation d’une telle gravité, laquelle n’a été portée ni devant les juridictions suprêmes européennes ni au sein de leurs organes internes. Il sera donc difficile aux autorités d’un autre Etat membre de la reprendre à leur compte en allant jusqu’au point de renverser la présomption établie par le protocole et de la confiance mutuelle entre Etats membres. Bien au contraire, l’unanimité des déclarations des représentants des autres Etats membres comme des institutions de l’Union s’est attachée depuis le début de la crise à souligner la nécessité de respecter le cadre légal national ainsi contesté.

b. C’est donc sur le terrain pénal que la suite de la partie se jouera. Avec la convocation à Madrid de l’ex-président et de treize de ses ministres par une juge d’instruction de l’Audience nationale, saisie par le parquet espagnol qui a requis des poursuites notamment pour « rébellion et sédition », chefs passibles respectivement d’un maximum de 30 et 15 ans de prison. Mettre en cause la partialité de la juridiction espagnole et son mode de fonctionnement nécessitera des arguments forts qu’aucune juridiction européenne n’a jusqu’alors établi, même en des cas autrement dramatiques.

Car pour le reste, et sous couvert de l’intitulé exact de l’émission inévitable du mandat d’arrêt européen qui suivra le refus annoncé de déférer à cette convocation judiciaire, le scénario est écrit. La décision-cadre 2002/584 établissant le mandat d’arrêt européen est inflexible : « rien dans la présente décision-cadre ne peut être interprété comme une interdiction de refuser la remise d’une personne qui fait l’objet d’un mandat d’arrêt européen s’il y a des raisons de croire, sur la base d’éléments objectifs, que ledit mandat a été émis dans le but de poursuivre ou de punir une personne en raison de son sexe, de sa race, de sa religion, de son origine ethnique, de sa nationalité, de sa langue, de ses opinions politiques ou de son orientation sexuelle, ou qu’il peut être porté atteinte à la situation de cette personne pour l’une de ces raisons ». Malgré le libellé peu clair du considérant n° 12 de la décision-cadre 2002/584, celui-ci invoque l’hypothèse d’un refus d’exécution d’un mandat d’arrêt européen s’il y a des raisons de présumer que la personne est persécutée pour ses opinions politiques. On remarquera d’une part qu’il s’agit d’une disposition non contraignante et d’autre part que la partie contraignante de la décision-cadre ne formule aucun motif de cette nature empêchant la coopération et donc l’exécution du mandat dans ces cas, hors les hypothèses des articles 3 et 4. Son article premier se borne à rappeler que « la présente décision-cadre ne saurait avoir pour effet de modifier l’obligation de respecter les droits fondamentaux et les principes juridiques fondamentaux tels qu’ils sont consacrés par l’article 6 du traité sur l’Union européenne ».

Et il est vrai à cet égard que la jurisprudence de la Cour de justice, évoquée à plusieurs reprises dans ces colonnes, confirme la rigueur de la force obligatoire de l’exécution d’un mandat. Ceci vaut sans exception, dans le sens où la Cour a considéré les raisons/motifs de refus prévues par la décision-cadre comme exhaustives (voir spécialement affaire C‑192/12 PPU West, pt. 55; affaire C‑399/11 Melloni, pt. 38). A la lumière de la jurisprudence dans les affaires Aranyosi et Caldararu, une certaine atténuation du principe établi apparait admissible si l’exécution implique une violation grave d’un droit fondamental bénéficiant d’une protection absolue, tel que la dignité de la personne humaine. Il semble difficile d’imaginer, au cas où la question serait adressée à la Cour de justice, que celle-ci puisse parvenir à intégrer la législation de l’UE en identifiant une raison supplémentaire pour cette hypothèse, la logique de l’avis 2/13 devrait alors être renversée et, en fait, la présomption même de non-octroi de l’asile.

En revanche, et pour ce que l’on en sait à travers la presse, les infractions pour lesquelles un mandat d’arrêt européen pourrait être émis (rébellion et sédition ?) contre M. Puigdemont ne semblent pas figurer sur la liste positive visée à l’art. 2, par. 2 de la décision cadre qui permet de procéder à une remise même en l’absence de double incrimination. Par conséquent, l’État d’exécution que serait la Belgique pourrait soumettre la remise à la vérification que les infractions couvertes par le mandat d’arrêt européen émis par l’Espagne soient également des infractions pénales en droit belge (art. 2, par. 4, et art. 4, par. 1, de la décision cadre).

Le scénario judiciaire risque donc, par l’automaticité de sa réponse, d’écarter toute hypothèse de refuge, de négociation ou autres compromis que le droit de l’extradition, hier, permettait encore. Là encore, prendre la décision de déférer à la demande de remise impliquera de procéder sous le feu des caméras à une arrestation pour y parvenir … Lourde responsabilité à prendre dans une coalition gouvernementale belge fragilisée sur la question nationaliste…

Sauf à croire qu’il n’y a finalement là que faux semblant, épisode nouveau d’une guerre de communication accréditée par la proximité de la consultation électorale en Catalogne. Jouer la carte de « l’exil » comme aux heures les plus noires, victimiser l’acteur principal de la crise, dénoncer la poursuite étatique en la discréditant dessinent les ressorts à peine dissimulés d’une stratégie dont nul ne sait si elle sera payante, pariant qu’elle parviendra à convaincre les hésitants. Donner en spectacle l’arrestation et l’emprisonnement ou même leurs simples éventualités permettra de prendre ainsi chacun à témoin de la justesse de la cause défendue. La brièveté des délais d’exécution du mandat d’arrêt européen, deux mois en vertu de l’article 17, pourrait alors pousser les uns ou les autres à une véritable course de lenteur pour l’éviter avant des élections cruciales …

Un seul enseignement mérite alors d’en être tiré, à ce stade de la crise. Son théâtre n’est plus national mais il est européen, faisant émerger un paradoxe imprévu mais dont il faudra tirer les leçons. S’il est banal chez les souverainistes de prétendre que l’Union a pu affaiblir ses Etats membres, la crise catalane et son déroulement révèlent très exactement l’inverse. D’abord car l’attrait européen et le risque de devoir s’en priver, comme nous l’avons démontré, constitue une puissante barrière défensive pour le maintien au sein de l’Etat que l’on est tenté de quitter. Ensuite car l’Union, ses dirigeants et son droit, ainsi pris à témoin par le choix des nationalistes d’européaniser la crise pour espérer la dénouer, s’avèrent être les premiers défenseurs de l’intégrité territoriale d’Etats membres. Ceux-ci se découvrent là une alliée inattendue. Ont-ils aussi compris qu’ils partagent désormais avec elle le choix de la décision finale sans en demeurer les seuls maîtres ?

UK/EU Security Cooperation After Brexit: the UK Government’s Future Partnership Papers

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

Professor Steve Peers

The Prime Minister’s big speech in Florence has received the most attention in recent weeks, but it’s also worth looking at the UK government’s recent papers on its planned EU/UK close partnership after Brexit.  I’ll look here at the papers on two aspects of security – external security (foreign policy and defence) on the one hand, and internal security (police and criminal law cooperation) on the other. Both of them are impacted in the short term by the Florence speech, since the Prime Minister called for the current UK/EU security arrangements to apply for a period of around two years, followed by a comprehensive EU/UK security treaty. Assuming that such a transition period is agreed, the issue is what happens after that. In other words, what will be the content of that future comprehensive security treaty?

External security: Foreign policy and defence

The UK government’s foreign policy paper devotes much of its space – the first 17 pages – to explaining the UK’s major commitments in this field, including via its EU membership. A Martian reader would assume that the UK was applying to join the Union. Only the last few pages discuss the government’s preferred policy – which is both rather vague and highly resembles EU membership.

In short (although there’s no long version), the government seeks to maintain a relationship with the EU in this field that’s closer than any other non-EU country – although without offering many specifics. The government does, however, state that it wants to contribute to EU defence missions and to align sanctions regimes with the EU. The point about sanctions is particularly relevant, since the UK provides intelligence to justify their imposition and some of the individuals concerned have placed their assets in the UK.

For instance, in the recent ECJ judgment in Rosneft (discussed here), which followed a reference from the UK courts, the sanctioned company tried to reopen the case to argue that the referendum result already meant that EU sanctions ceased to apply in the UK. The ECJ simply replied that the Russian company had not explained how the Brexit vote altered the jurisdiction of the Court or the effect of its judgments.

Of course, the legal position will certainly change from Brexit Day: the UK government plans to propose a new Bill regulating post-Brexit sanctions policy in the near future, following a White Paper on this issue earlier this year (see also the government response to that consultation). One key question will be whether that Bill already attempts to regulate the UK’s post-Brexit coordination with the EU on sanctions, or whether that will be left to the Brexit negotiations to address.

This brings us to the issue of the ECJ, which is a difficult question as regards many aspects of the Brexit talks. In principle, in the area of foreign policy and defence, Brexit talks should not be too complicated by ECJ issues, since the Court has only limited jurisdiction. However, as the case of Rosneft illustrates, it does have jurisdiction over sanctions issues. In fact, there are frequent challenges to EU sanctions and many challenges are successful, so there will be a risk of divergence between EU and UK policy after Brexit that may need to be discussed. Such divergence could lead to a knock-on complication with capital movement between the UK and EU.

The paper also covers development and external migration policy, where the UK again seeks something which is both vague and much like membership – collaboration on coordinating policy. While the EU has its own development policy, Member States are free to have their own policies, subject to loose coordination – which is what the UK is aiming for as a non-member.

This was, perhaps, a missed opportunity here to touch on the most difficult issue in the talks: the financial liabilities upon leaving in the EU. Some of the EU’s spending in these areas is not part of the ordinary EU budget (as the ECJ has confirmed), although it is part of the EU negotiation position. So the UK could have addressed that issue to move talks along and to make links between ‘upfront’ and ‘future’ issues to get around sequencing problems in the Brexit talks. (The Prime Minister’s subsequent speech in Florence did not explicitly mention these funds). Furthermore, the UK government could have used this paper to reassure some febrile people that it will have a veto on what it chooses to participate in, as well as on the ECJ.

Internal security: Criminal Law and Policing

In many ways, the government paper on criminal law matters is similar to the foreign policy paper. It also starts out by saying how useful the current relationship is, for instance as regards data on wanted persons and stolen objects uploaded into the Schengen Information System, the use of the European Arrest Warrant for fast-track extradition, and the EU police intelligence agency, Europol.

What happens after Brexit? The UK paper correctly points out that the EU already has agreements in this area with many non-EU countries, particularly as regards the exchange of policing data but also as regards some forms of criminal justice cooperation. But as with foreign policy and defence, the UK wants a distinctive relationship after Brexit, given the existing close links.

Again, however, the actual content of what the UK wants is vague. Which of the current EU laws in this field which the UK has signed up to (for a summary of those laws, see my referendum briefing here) would it still like to participate in? The only clear point is that the government doesn’t want direct ECJ jurisdiction. In principle, that should be fine for the long term, since the EU27 negotiation position only refers to the ECJ during a transition period. There’s no insistence on using it afterward, which is consistent with EU treaties in this field with non-EU countries.

However, some of those treaties refer to taking account of each other’s case law, and dispute settlement or (in some treaties) possible termination in the event of judicial or legislative divergences. The UK paper gives no idea of how it will tackle those issues, whereas the recent paper on the parallel issue of civil litigation (discussed here) at least indicated a willingness to require UK courts to take account of relevant ECJ rulings.

Comments

The contrast between the importance of these issues and the vagueness with which they are treated is striking. Imagine a television viewer aching to watch Tenko or Broadchurch – but having to settle for Last of the Summer Wine.  It is fair to assume that the government has more detailed plans than this but doesn’t want to release them; but presumably anything more specific would have opened division in the cabinet or run the perceived risk of making the government look awkward by disclosing an ultimately unsuccessful negotiation position (what the government refers to as undermining negotiations). Increasingly these papers look like an attempt to respond to poor polls about negotiations rather than a contribution to the talks.

The government does have a point, however: the UK and EU have significant shared interests in this area, and the UK has a lot to offer, in terms of its defence contribution, supply of intelligence and round-up of fugitives from other Member States, for instance. Of course, the UK benefits in turn from having swifter access to other countries’ intelligence, as well as fast track extradition and transfer of criminal evidence.  The Brexit process might also be an opportunity to address the civil liberties concerns that sometimes arise about these measures, but there is no detailed discussion of that.

It will likely be awhile before these issues are discussed in detail in the talks, and it remains to be seen how interested the EU27 side is in the UK government’s position. But at first sight, it seems possible that the future of the EU/UK relationship on security issues will not be vastly different from the present.

European Public Prosecutor Office (EPPO) : too little, too complex but, still, a step in the right direction…

On October 5th the European Parliament consented to the creation of the European Public Prosecutor Office as foreseen by the art. 86 (*) of the Treaty on Functioning of the European Union. Following this vote the Council adopted on October 12th the 200 pages long Regulation  creating this new EU body. It has been adopted following the enhanced cooperation procedure foreseen by art. 86 TFEU and it will not cover  UK, IRL, DK (which have not opted in) and Malta, Nederland, Polonia, Sweden and Hungary.

It has been a rather long and bumpy road before reaching this result.

Itcould had been much better since the original proposals in the so-called “Corpus Juris” debated by the decades ago by the Commission and the EP  but it is a small step in the right direction. Needless to say in the meantime two other complementary initiatives are negotiated : the long awaited revision of Eurojust (which is more a cooperative tool between the Member states than a beginning of a supranational EU Agency such as the European Public Prosecutor should be…) and an upgrade of OLAF the administrative (and not judiciary) body which is already fighting the fraud against European resources.

Bringing all these tools together will not be easy but, as always the EU progresses by making a step in one direction and another on the side… A positive signal is the Commission announcement to empower the EPPO of terrorism and serious offenses as recently requested (?) by French President Macron and endorsed by the European Commission President Juncker. However a new legislative proposal could be on the Institution’s table only next year and this means that it could not be seriously negotiated before 2020 or 2021 by the new European Parliament (if in the meantime there will no be some other “horrific” terrorist attack..). However, be patient, this is how a 28 Member States Union can work..

As far as the current version of the EPPO is concerned the EP Rapporteur Barbara MATERA has made a rather clear abstract of the new text  in her explanatory note to the Recommendation to the Plenary :

The protection and prosecution of offences against the EU budget and the financial interests of the EU is currently within the exclusive competence of Member States. OLAF, Eurojust and Europol do not have the mandate to conduct criminal investigations and the EPPO will fill this institutional gap.

The establishment of the EPPO will bring about substantial change in the way the Union’s financial interests are protected. It will combine European and national law-enforcement efforts in a unified, seamless and efficient approach to counter EU-frauds. Currently, only national authorities can investigate and prosecute EU-fraud and their competences stop at their national borders.

On the 17 July of 2013, the European Commission submitted a proposal for a regulation of the Council to set up the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) defining its competences and procedures. Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) provides with the legal basis and the rules for setting up the EPPO. Under Art. 86, the proposed regulation is to be adopted in accordance with the Consent legislative procedure: the Council is to decide unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

On 7 February 2017, the Council registered the absence of unanimity in support of the proposal. Under Article 86 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, this opens the way for a group of at least nine Member States to refer the text for discussion to the European Council for a final attempt at securing consensus. The rapporteur regrets that only 20 Member States participate, to date, at the enhanced cooperation and encourages non-participating Member States to join as well in the future.

On 8 June, the Member States participating in enhanced cooperation adopted a general approach on the proposal.

The EP has adopted 3 interim reports (2014, 2015 and 2016) related to EPPO where it has raised number of concerns regarding the competences of the EPPO, PIF directive and VAT fraud, structure, investigations, procedural rights, judicial review and relations with other relevant EU agencies.

•  The structure of the EPPO 

The EPPO will be a body of the Union with a decentralised structure with the aim of integrating the national law enforcement authorities. A European Public Prosecutor will head the EPPO and every participating member will be represented with one prosecutor. According to the Regulation the investigations will be carried out by European Delegated Prosecutors (EDPS) located in each Member State. The number of EDPs for Member States will be decided nationally but each one should have at least one. The Delegated Prosecutors will be an integral part of the EPPO but also continue to exercise their functions as national prosecutors. When acting for the EPPO, they will be fully independent from the national prosecution bodies.

•  Competences

The EPPO will be responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment the perpetrators of offences against the Union’s financial interests. The functions of prosecutor will be carried out within the competent courts of the Member States in relation to such offences.

The set of competences and proceedings for the EPPO, include the proposed directive on fighting fraud against the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (‘PIF directive’). In December 2016, the EP and the Council reached a provisional agreement on the PIF proposal. They agreed to include serious cases of cross-border VAT frauds in the scope of the directive, setting the threshold value at €10 million.

The rapporteur welcomes that the “damage” criterion has been largely mitigated by exceptions introduced and is no longer applicable to Art 3(a), (b) and (d) of the PIF Directive (non-procurement related expenditure; procurement related expenditure and revenue arising from VAT own resources). The possibility to transfer cases from national authorities to EPPO, for which EPPO otherwise would not be able to exercise competence, has been introduced.

The EPPO regulation widens the scope of reporting obligations by national authorities and gives EPPO more possibilities to request additional information. The cross-border dimension of the serious crimes that fall under the competences of the EPPO could, in the future, be extended.

•  Judicial review

The EPPO Regulation ensures a comprehensive system of judicial review by national courts and allows for possibilities of direct review by the ECJ (EPPO decision to dismiss a case, contested on the basis of EU law, disputes relating to compensation of damage caused by the EPPO, disputes concerning arbitration clauses, staff-related matters and decisions affecting data subjects’ rights such as the right of public access to documents).

•  Investigative measures

EPPO will have sufficient investigative measures available to conduct its investigations. Art. 30 of the regulation provides for a list of measures where the offence subject to the investigation is punishable by a maximum penalty of at least four years of imprisonment. In this regard, the co-legislators have agreed on criteria for Member States to make requests for investigative measures based on the principle of mutual recognition set out in Directive 2014/41/EU regarding the European Investigation Order in criminal matters.

•  Procedural safeguards  

The protection of the procedural rights of suspected and accused persons is guaranteed in full compliance with the rights of suspects and accused persons enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The regulation provide for rights of defence for EPPO suspects, in particular the right to legal aid, the right to interpretation and translation, the right to information and access to case materials, and the right to present evidence and to ask the EPPO to collect evidence on behalf of the suspect.

•  Eurojust, OLAF and Europol

As a necessary tool for exercising its duties, the EPPO may have to establish and maintain cooperative relations with existing Union agencies, offices or bodies such as Eurojust, OLAF and Europol.

EPPO and Eurojust in particular need to see their competences defined clearly in order to ensure legal certainty. With the aim of avoiding detrimental repetition and overlapping competences between the two offices, competences must be clearly delimited and defined. On a case-by-case basis, based on precise criteria, the two offices can work closely sharing information on their investigations.

In its relations with OLAF, the EPPO shall establish a close cooperation especially on information exchange. Provisions in the regulation provide for avoiding parallel investigations into the same facts. EPPO may request OLAF to provide information, facilitate coordination and conduct administrative investigations.

The relationship between EPPO and Europol will be based on strict cooperation and EPPO, when necessary for the purpose of its investigations, shall be able to obtain any relevant information held by Europol.

•  Non-Participating countries

The rapporteur welcomes the Council decision to include in the provisions of Art. 59a, concerning the relations between the EPPO and the Member States that do not participate in enhanced cooperation, the request for these to notify the EPPO as a competent authority for the purpose to respect the judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

•  Conclusions

Even though the rapporteur would welcome a more ambitious regulation, she considers that the EP concerns has been largely addressed in the text as it stands now.

The rapporteur regrets that not all the Member States of the EU participate to the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor Office but welcomes the fact that 20 of them reached a general approach that includes particularly PIF crimes and in particular serious VAT frauds. The rapporteur encourages non-participating Member States to join the enhanced cooperation in the future.

NOTES

(*) ART 86 TFEU:

1.         In order to combat crimes affecting the financial interests of the Union, the Council, by means of regulations adopted in accordance with a special legislative procedure, may establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office from Eurojust. The Council shall act unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

In the absence of unanimity in the Council, a group of at least nine Member States may request that the draft regulation be referred to the European Council. In that case, the procedure in the Council shall be suspended. After discussion, and in case of a consensus, the European Council shall, within four months of this suspension, refer the draft back to the Council for adoption.

Within the same timeframe, in case of disagreement, and if at least nine Member States wish to establish enhanced cooperation on the basis of the draft regulation concerned, they shall notify the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission accordingly. In such a case, the authorisation to proceed with enhanced cooperation referred to in Article 20(2) of the Treaty on European Union and Article 329(1) of this Treaty shall be deemed to be granted and the provisions on enhanced cooperation shall apply.

2.         The European Public Prosecutor’s Office 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, as determined by the regulation provided for in paragraph 1. It shall exercise the functions of prosecutor in the competent courts of the Member States in relation to such offences.

3.         The regulations referred to in paragraph 1 shall determine the general rules applicable to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, the conditions governing the performance of its functions, the rules of procedure applicable to its activities, as well as those governing the admissibility of evidence, and the rules applicable to the judicial review of procedural measures taken by it in the performance of its functions.

4.         The European Council may, at the same time or subsequently, adopt a decision amending paragraph 1 in order to extend the powers of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to include serious crime having a cross-border dimension and amending accordingly paragraph 2 as regards the perpetrators of, and accomplices in, serious crimes affecting more than one Member State. The European Council shall act unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament and after consulting the Commission.

FURTHER REFERENCES (as suggested by the EP Research Service)

Further reading:

For further information: Piotr Bąkowski, Sofija Voronova, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20 September 2017

The protection and prosecution of offences against the EU budget and the financial interests of the EU is currently within the exclusive competence of Member States. OLAF, Eurojust and Europol do not have the mandate to conduct criminal investigations and the EPPO will fill this institutional gap.

The establishment of the EPPO will bring about substantial change in the way the Union’s financial interests are protected. It will combine European and national law-enforcement efforts in a unified, seamless and efficient approach to counter EU-frauds. Currently, only national authorities can investigate and prosecute EU-fraud and their competences stop at their national borders.

On the 17 July of 2013, the European Commission submitted a proposal for a regulation of the Council to set up the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) defining its competences and procedures. Article 86 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) provides with the legal basis and the rules for setting up the EPPO. Under Art. 86, the proposed regulation is to be adopted in accordance with the Consent legislative procedure: the Council is to decide unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

On 7 February 2017, the Council registered the absence of unanimity in support of the proposal. Under Article 86 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU, this opens the way for a group of at least nine Member States to refer the text for discussion to the European Council for a final attempt at securing consensus. The rapporteur regrets that only 20 Member States participate, to date, at the enhanced cooperation and encourages non-participating Member States to join as well in the future.

On 8 June, the Member States participating in enhanced cooperation adopted a general approach on the proposal.

The EP has adopted 3 interim reports (2014, 2015 and 2016) related to EPPO where it has raised number of concerns regarding the competences of the EPPO, PIF directive and VAT fraud, structure, investigations, procedural rights, judicial review and relations with other relevant EU agencies.

•  The structure of the EPPO

The EPPO will be a body of the Union with a decentralised structure with the aim of integrating the national law enforcement authorities. A European Public Prosecutor will head the EPPO and every participating member will be represented with one prosecutor. According to the Regulation the investigations will be carried out by European Delegated Prosecutors (EDPS) located in each Member State. The number of EDPs for Member States will be decided nationally but each one should have at least one. The Delegated Prosecutors will be an integral part of the EPPO but also continue to exercise their functions as national prosecutors. When acting for the EPPO, they will be fully independent from the national prosecution bodies.

•  Competences

The EPPO will be responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment the perpetrators of offences against the Union’s financial interests. The functions of prosecutor will be carried out within the competent courts of the Member States in relation to such offences.

The set of competences and proceedings for the EPPO, include the proposed directive on fighting fraud against the Union’s financial interests by means of criminal law (‘PIF directive’). In December 2016, the EP and the Council reached a provisional agreement on the PIF proposal. They agreed to include serious cases of cross-border VAT frauds in the scope of the directive, setting the threshold value at €10 million.

The rapporteur welcomes that the “damage” criterion has been largely mitigated by exceptions introduced and is no longer applicable to Art 3(a), (b) and (d) of the PIF Directive (non-procurement related expenditure; procurement related expenditure and revenue arising from VAT own resources). The possibility to transfer cases from national authorities to EPPO, for which EPPO otherwise would not be able to exercise competence, has been introduced.

The EPPO regulation widens the scope of reporting obligations by national authorities and gives EPPO more possibilities to request additional information. The cross-border dimension of the serious crimes that fall under the competences of the EPPO could, in the future, be extended.

•  Judicial review

The EPPO Regulation ensures a comprehensive system of judicial review by national courts and allows for possibilities of direct review by the ECJ (EPPO decision to dismiss a case, contested on the basis of EU law, disputes relating to compensation of damage caused by the EPPO, disputes concerning arbitration clauses, staff-related matters and decisions affecting data subjects’ rights such as the right of public access to documents).

•  Investigative measures

EPPO will have sufficient investigative measures available to conduct its investigations. Art. 30 of the regulation provides for a list of measures where the offence subject to the investigation is punishable by a maximum penalty of at least four years of imprisonment. In this regard, the co-legislators have agreed on criteria for Member States to make requests for investigative measures based on the principle of mutual recognition set out in Directive 2014/41/EU regarding the European Investigation Order in criminal matters.

•  Procedural safeguards

The protection of the procedural rights of suspected and accused persons is guaranteed in full compliance with the rights of suspects and accused persons enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The regulation provide for rights of defence for EPPO suspects, in particular the right to legal aid, the right to interpretation and translation, the right to information and access to case materials, and the right to present evidence and to ask the EPPO to collect evidence on behalf of the suspect.

•  Eurojust, OLAF and Europol

As a necessary tool for exercising its duties, the EPPO may have to establish and maintain cooperative relations with existing Union agencies, offices or bodies such as Eurojust, OLAF and Europol.

EPPO and Eurojust in particular need to see their competences defined clearly in order to ensure legal certainty. With the aim of avoiding detrimental repetition and overlapping competences between the two offices, competences must be clearly delimited and defined. On a case-by-case basis, based on precise criteria, the two offices can work closely sharing information on their investigations.

In its relations with OLAF, the EPPO shall establish a close cooperation especially on information exchange. Provisions in the regulation provide for avoiding parallel investigations into the same facts. EPPO may request OLAF to provide information, facilitate coordination and conduct administrative investigations.

The relationship between EPPO and Europol will be based on strict cooperation and EPPO, when necessary for the purpose of its investigations, shall be able to obtain any relevant information held by Europol.

•  Non-Participating countries

The rapporteur welcomes the Council decision to include in the provisions of Art. 59a, concerning the relations between the EPPO and the Member States that do not participate in enhanced cooperation, the request for these to notify the EPPO as a competent authority for the purpose to respect the judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

•  Conclusions

Even though the rapporteur would welcome a more ambitious regulation, she considers that the EP concerns has been largely addressed in the text as it stands now.

The rapporteur regrets that not all the Member States of the EU participate to the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor Office but welcomes the fact that 20 of them reached a general approach that includes particularly PIF crimes and in particular serious VAT frauds. The rapporteur encourages non-participating Member States to join the enhanced cooperation in the future.

Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases

Original published on Statewatch (*) on May 2017

By Heiner Busch (@Busch_Heiner) and Matthias Monroy (@matthimon)  (Translation from DE by Viktoria Langer)

The topic of counter-terrorism in Europe remains closely linked to the development and expansion of police (and secret service) databases. This was the case in the 1970s, after 11 September 2001 and has also been the case since 2014, when the EU Member States started working on their action plans against ‘foreign terrorist fighters’.

The first effect of this debate has been a quantitative one: the amount of data in the relevant databases has increased explosively since 2015. This can be seen by looking in particular at available data on the Europol databases, like ‘Focal Points’ (formerly: Analytical Work Files) of the Europol analysis system. Since 2015 they have become one of the central instruments of the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) which was established in January 2016. ‘Hydra’, the ‘Focal Point’ concerning Islamist terrorism was installed shortly after 9/11. In December 2003 9,888 individuals had been registered, a figure that seemed quite high at the time – but not compared with today’s figures. [1] In September 2016 ‘Hydra’ contained 686,000 data sets (2015: 620,000) of which 67,760 were about individuals (2015: 64,000) and 11,600 about organisations (2015: 11,000).

In April 2014 an additional ‘Focal Point’, named ‘Travellers’, was introduced, which is exclusively dealing with “foreign terrorist fighters” (FTF). One year later ‘Travellers’ included 3,600 individuals, including contact details and accompanying persons. In April 2016 the total number increased by a factor of six. Of the 21,700 individuals registered at the time, 5,353 were “verified” FTFs. In September 2016, of 33,911 registered individuals, 5,877 had been verified as FTFs.

Since 2010 Europol and the USA have operated the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), which evaluates transfers made via the Belgian financial service provider SWIFT. Until mid-April 2016 more than 22,000 intelligence leads had been arisen out of that programme, of which 15,572 since the start of 2015. 5,416 (25%) were related to FTFs.

In contrast to Europol’s analytical system, the Europol Information System (EIS, the registration system of the police agency) can be fed and queried directly from the police headquarters and other authorities of EU Member States. Here, more than 384,804 ‘objects’ (106,493 individuals) were registered at the start of October 2016, 50% more than the year before. The increase is partly due to the growing number of parties participating in the EIS. In 2015 13 Member States were connected; in 2016 19 Member States. Some of the EU States, like the UK, also let their national secret services participate in the system. 16 Member States currently use automatic data uploaders for input. The number of third parties involved has also increased (in 2015 there were four, in 2016 there were eight). Interpol, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security are some of them.

Europol has reported further growth in the number of “objects” linked to terrorism in the EIS. According to the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU’s schedule for the improvement of information exchange and information management, in the third quarter of 2016 alone these grew another 20% to 13,645. [2] The EIS includes 7,166 data sets about individuals linked to terrorism, of which 6,506 are marked as FTFs or their supporters, or are assumed to be so. For May 2016 the CTC stated a figure of 4,129. [3] The increase in terrorism linked data can also be seen in the Schengen Information System (SIS) – in the alerts for “discreet checks or specific checks” following Article 36 of the SIS Decision. According to this, suspect persons are not supposed to be arrested. However, information about accompanying persons, vehicles etc. are recorded to provide insight into movements and to keep tabs on the contacts of the observed person. At the end of September 2016 the number of such checks by the police authorities (following Article 36(2)) was 78,015 (2015: 61,575, 2014: 44,669). The number of alerts of the national secret services based on Article 36(3) was 9,516 (2015: 7,945, 2014: 1,859). “Hits” on such alerts and additional information are supposed to be sent directly to the alerting authorities and not as usual to national SIRENE offices (which deal with the exchange of supplementary information regarding alerts in the SIS). This option was only introduced in February 2015.

The Schengen states used the instrument for discreet surveillance or specific checks very differently. On 1 December 2015 44.34% of all Article 36 alerts came from authorities in France, 14.6% from the UK, 12.01% from Spain, 10.09% from Italy and 4.63% from Germany. [4] How many of these alerts actually had a link to terrorism remains unclear; a common definition has not yet been found. However, the Council Working Party on Schengen Matters agreed on the introduction of a new reference (“activity linked to terrorism”) for security agencies’ alerts. According to Federal Ministry for the Interior, German alerts are marked with this reference when concrete evidence for the preparation of a serious act of violent subversion (§§129a, 129b Penal Code) can be presented. [5]

‘Unnoticed in the Schengen area’ Continue reading “Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases”

Worth Reading: Justice against sponsors of terrorism (JASTA and its international impact)

European Parliament Research Service (EPRS)  Briefing published on October 2016

SUMMARY

On 27 September 2016, the United States Congress overrode the presidential veto to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), the culmination of lengthy efforts to facilitate lawsuits by victims of terrorism against foreign states and officials supporting terrorism. Until JASTA, under the ‘terrorism exception’ in the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, sovereign immunity could only be denied to foreign states officially designated by the USA as sponsors of terrorism at the time or as a result of the terrorist act. JASTA extends the scope of the terrorism exception to the jurisdictional immunity of foreign states so as to allow US courts to exercise jurisdiction over civil claims regarding injuries, death or damages that occur inside the USA as result of a tort, including an act of terrorism committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.

The bill has generated significant debate within and outside the USA. State or sovereign immunity is a recognised principle of customary international law and, for that reason, JASTA has been denounced as potentially violating international law and foreign states’ sovereignty; some countries have already announced reciprocal measures against the USA. The terrorism exception to state immunity was already a controversial concept, with only the USA and Canada having introduced legislation on the matter.

In this briefing:
What is JASTA?
The law on state immunity and the terrorism exception
Debate in the United States
Reactions in third countries
Considerations for the European Union
The European Union’s approach to victims’ rights
Main references

What is JASTA?

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) represents an attempt by the US Congress to reduce the number of obstacles faced by victims of terrorism when bringing lawsuits in the USA against foreign states and officials supporting terrorism. The bill amends the federal judicial code (USC) to expand the scope of the terrorism exception (Title 28 USC, section 1605A) to the jurisdictional immunity of a foreign state. It will give US courts jurisdiction over civil claims regarding injuries, death, or damages that occur inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official. It also amends the federal criminal code to permit civil claims (Title 18 USC, section 2333) sought by individuals against a foreign state or official for injuries, death or damages from an act of international terrorism (unless the foreign state is immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as amended by JASTA). Additionally, the bill authorises federal courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over, and impose liability on, a person who commits, or aids, abets, or conspires to commit, an act of international terrorism against a US national (thus expanding the liability of foreign government officials in civil actions for terrorist acts). However, the foreign state will not be subject to the jurisdiction of US courts if the tortious act in question constitutes ‘mere negligence’. JASTA contains a stay of actions clause that can apply if the USA is engaged in good faith discussions with the foreign state or any parties as to the resolution of the claims. A stay can be granted for 180 days, and is renewable. JASTA will apply to any civil action ‘arising out of an injury to a person, property, or business, on or after September 11, 2001’.

The JASTA bill was approved by the US Senate in May 2016 (S. 2040) and by the House of Representatives in September 2016, but was vetoed by President Obama. The bill passed after Congress overrode the presidential veto on 27 September 2016. There are however indications that some changes to the law are already being considered by lawmakers. Several countries, including some EU Member States have expressed concern about the bill. The existing US terrorism exception to state immunity is already considered to be contrary to customary international law and is an isolated practice among other states.

The law on state immunity and the terrorism exception Continue reading “Worth Reading: Justice against sponsors of terrorism (JASTA and its international impact)”

The Meijers Committee on the “Money Laundering Directive”

ORIGINAL COMMENT PUBLISHED ON 12 MAY 2017 (*)

The Meijers Committee would like to comment on the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on countering money laundering by criminal law.1

1. The Meijers Committee wishes to express its support for the idea of reviewing existing EU instruments in order to clarify obligations and achieve more coherence in the criminalisation of money laundering. However, the Meijers Committee considers that some elements of the Commission’s proposal deserve reconsideration in light of the principle of proportionality (article 5(4) TEU) and the ideas about criminalisation at EU level that the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament have expounded.2

The Meijers Committee holds that safeguards for suspects and defendants should be improved in the directive, inter alia because such harmonisation is important to enhance the effectiveness of cooperation between Member States.

2. The Meijers Committee deplores the fact that the Commission has not made an impact assessment of this proposal. The Commission reasons that the Directive mainly incorporates existing international obligations. Yet criminalisation of this behaviour at EU level, with its particular legal order, is more far-reaching than most existing international obligations. Moreover, as will be shown below, the proposal does go further than existing international obligations in some important aspects and it concerns a sensitive topic. Therefore, an impact assessment is necessary.

3. In the Commission’s proposal, the definition of criminal activity from which the property is derived (the ‘predicate offences’) has a wide scope. Whereas the Commission explains the necessity of the proposal mainly from the viewpoint of countering (financing of) terrorism, this is in reality only a small part of the proposal. Besides the list of EU-criminal offences, the proposal deals with ‘all offences as defined in the national law of the Member States, which are punishable by deprivation of liberty or a detention order for a maximum of more than one year or, as regards Member States that have a minimum threshold for offences in their legal system, all offences punishable by deprivation of liberty or a detention order for a minimum of more than six months’ (article 2(1 )(v)).

This may include possession of a small amount of property from a minor theft.

As the German delegation proposed, ‘a mandatory criminalisation of money laundering without any limitation to serious crimes could be disproportional’.3 Especially in purely national cases, which will be affected by the directive as well, having such a wide definition of the predicate offence may lead to unjustified outcomes. According to the Meijers Committee, this element of the proposal could be improved by including a requirement that Member States are only obliged to criminalise money laundering with regard to ‘particularly serious criminal activity’, which could include serious criminal activity with a cross-border element.

4. The Meijers Committee finds it questionable whether it is necessary and proportionate to oblige EU Member States to criminalise ‘self-laundering’ (article 3(3)), even though it should be welcomed that this offence only applies to conversion, transfer, concealment and disguise, and not to acquisition, possession or use. The Commission does not convincingly state why an EU-wide obligation to criminalise this behaviour, which is only optional in other instruments such as the Warsaw Convention, should be necessary to achieve the objective of the directive.

In many EU Member States, self-laundering is not criminalised because it is thought to lead to violations of the right not to be tried or punished twice for the same offence.4 The directive’s explanatory memorandum does refer to the ne bis in idem principle laid down in article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; however, this only applies to persons who have been finally acquitted or convicted and not to cases in which simultaneous prosecution takes place. Thus, the directive still leaves a gap in the protection for the defendant. Moreover, confiscation of the proceeds is already possible (see Directive 2014/42).

An option could be to limit the obligation to criminalise self-laundering to actions (of conversion, transfer, concealment and disguise) that cause further damage to the integrity of the financial system, in addition to the damage already caused by the predicate offence.

Another option could be to oblige states to limit the criminalisation of self-laundering (with regard to conversion, transfer, concealment or disguise) to situations where a person cannot be held criminally responsible for the predicate offence.

5. Even when there is no self-laundering involved, in some countries the prosecution of behaviour such as acquisition, possession or use of the property, when there is also a prosecution of the predicate offence, leads to problems of double jeopardy. As explained in par. 4, these problems cannot simply be solved by referring to article 50 of the Charter. It is exactly issues like these that, according to the Meijers Committee, necessitate an impact assessment of the proposal.

6. The Meijers Committee recommends putting in place more safeguards in relation to article 3(1), as these obligations potentially cover a wide range of conduct. There is a risk that states could use the money laundering offence as a ‘catch-all’ offence that also covers conduct which is not (or only very remotely) related to the rationale of protecting the integrity of the financial system. The Meijers Committee considers that this rationale of protecting the integrity of the financial system should be at the heart of the Directive, because that is what makes money laundering a serious crime and distinguishes it from other forms of assistance or encouragement of criminal conduct.

The latter forms should not be the subject of EU criminal law regulation, because the EU’s competences in article 83(1) TFEU are limited to particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension.

This element could be improved by requiring that the conduct in article 3(1) – under a, b and c (not only under a) – is carried out with the purpose of concealing or disguising the illicit origin of the property. Also, the proposal would be improved if the offence definition would require that the conduct is suitable for concealing or disguising the illicit origin of the property. 7.

The Meijers Committee recommends amending article 3(2)(b), which states that it shall not be necessary to establish other circumstances relating to the criminal activity. If requirements with regard to establishing the predicate offence are too loose, Member States’ criminal law systems may focus on prosecuting for money laundering in order to evade the problems they may have in prosecuting the predicate offences. The wording proposed by the Council Presidency could provide a solution to this: ‘a conviction for the offences, referred to in paragraph 1 is possible where it is established that the property has been derived from a criminal activity, without it being necessary to establish all the factual elements relating to such activity’.5

(*) The Council has in the meantime agreed a new version of the text : see document 9280/17 on May 22, 2017 (however not directly accessible to the public)

NOTES

1 21 December 2016, COM(2016) 826 final.
2 Council Conclusions on model provisions, guiding the Council’s criminal law deliberations, 2979th JHA Council meeting, 30 November 2009; European Parliament, Resolution ‘An EU approach to criminal law’, 22 May 2012 (2010/2310(INI)); European Commission Communication ‘Towards an EU Criminal Policy: Ensuring the effective implementation of EU policies through criminal law’, 20 September 2011, (COM(2011)0573).
3 Council of the EU, Comments by delegations on the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on countering money laundering by criminal law, 10 February 2017, 2016/0414 (COD), 15782/16, 6050/17.
4 Council of the EU, Comments by delegations on the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on countering money laundering by criminal law, 10 February 2017, 2016/0414 (COD), 6050/17.
5 Examination of the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on countering money laundering by criminal law, 9 February 2017, 2016/0414 (COD), 5443/17.

Worth reading : the final report by the EU High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG),

NB: The full version (PDF)  of the Report is accessible HERE

On May 8th the (EU) High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG) which was set up in June 2016 following the Commission Communication on “Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security ” has published its long awaited 56 long pages Report on Information Systems and Interoperability.

Members of the HLEG were the EU Members States (+ Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), the EU Agencies (Fundamental Rights Agency, FRONTEX, European Asylum Support Office, Europol and the EU-LISA “Large Information Support Agency”) as well as the representatives of the Commission and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and the Anti-Terrorism Coordinator (an High Council General Secretariat Official designated by the European Council).

Three Statements, respectively of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, of the European Data Protection Supervisor and of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator (CTC),  are attached. The first two can be considered as a sort of partially dissenting Opinions while the CTC  statement is quite obviously in full support of the recommendations set out by the report as it embodies for the first time at EU level the “Availability Principle” which was set up already in 2004 by the European Council. According to that principle if a Member State (or the EU) has a security related information which can be useful to another Member State it has to make it available to the authority of another Member State. It looks as a common sense principle which goes hand in hand with the principle of sincere cooperation between EU Member States and between them and the EU Institutions.

The little detail is that when information is collected for security purposes national and European legislation set very strict criteria to avoid the possible abuses by public EU and National Law enforcement authorities. This is the core of Data Protection legislation and of the art. 6, 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which prevent the EU and its Member States from becoming a sort of Big Brother “State of surveillance”. Moreover, at least until now these principles have guided the post-Lisbon European Court of Justice jurisprudence in this domain and it is quite appalling that no reference is made in this report to the Luxembourg Court Rulings notably dealing with “profiling” and “data retention”(“Digital Rights”, “Schrems”, “TELE 2-Watson”…).

Needless to say to implement all the HLWG recommendations several legislative measures will be needed as well as the definition of a legally EU Security Strategy which should be adopted under the responsibility of the EU co-legislators. Without a strong legally founded EU security strategy not only the European Parliament will continue to be out of the game but also the control of the Court of Justice on the necessity and  proportionality of the existing and planned EU legislative measures will be weakened.  Overall this HLWG report is mainly focused on security related objectives and the references to fundamental rights and data protection are given more as “excusatio non petita” than as a clearly explained reasoning (see the Fundamental Rights Agency Statement). On the Content of the  perceived “threats” to be countered with this new approach it has to be seen if some of them (such as the mixing irregular migration with terrorism)  are not imaginary and, by the countrary, real ones are not taken in account.

At least this report is now public. It will be naive to consider it as purely “technical” : it is highly political and will justify several EU legislative measures. It will be worthless for the European Parliament to wake up when the formal legislative proposals will be submitted. If it has an alternative vision it has to show it NOW and not waiting when the Report will be quite likely “endorsed” by the Council and the European Council.

Emilio De Capitani

TEXT OF THE REPORT (NB  Figures have not been currently imported, sorry.)

——- Continue reading “Worth reading : the final report by the EU High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG),”