Brussels asks Helsinki to push for stronger EU in criminal matters
28.06.06 @ 18:48
BRUSSELS - The European Commission has renewed calls to boost EU powers in criminal matters as well as increase the role of the European Court of Justice in dealing with immigration, asylum or visa case, urging the incoming Finnish presidency to push the issue.
The EU executive on Wednesday (28 June) said the bloc's member states should scrap their national vetoes in the field of police and judicial cooperation and vote instead by qualified majority, while bringing the European Parliament on board as an equal player in the decision-making process.
The idea was previously accepted by all national governments when they signed up to the EU constitution, but it can also be implemented without the constitution by using a special provision in the existing treaty.
The use of this provision was already promoted by Brussels ahead of the EU leaders' summit earlier this month, but the mechanism failed to gain political backing mainly due to German opposition.
Wednesday's package will now be put to justice ministers meeting in September.
Presenting the initiative, commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said he was "aware of political sensitivities" connected with the proposal but argued, "we cannot continue to justify the lack of accountability and use of unanimity."
Mr Barroso urged the incoming Finnish presidency to push ahead with the initiative, pointing out that the country has in the past played a major role in achieving progress in the area of justice and home affairs.
Finnish officials have already hinted that they are planning to tackle the issue, with one diplomat suggesting, "It would be beneficial for everybody to move ahead with this."
However, some countries - like Germany and Ireland - view the idea as resembling the EU constitution too much, which they backed as a package but reject in the form of "cherry-picking" after the failed referenda in France and the Netherlands last year.
Quicker and more effective?
Brussels' main argument in pushing for a stronger EU role in criminal and judicial affairs is that it would enable the 25-member bloc to legislate faster and more effectively in the area which makes up 17 percent of all the current commission's bills.
Brussels argues that the unanimity vote slowed down the adoption of "measures of utmost importance" such as the European evidence warrant - enabling the transfer of evidence in cross-border investigations - which took three years to get through.
Mr Barroso said that the final adoption of this particular measure last month - after years of wrangling - has been the "first result" of the commission's pressure for scrapping national vetoes.
But one official close to the negotiations told the EUobserver that this interpretation is "just the commission's wishful thinking," stressing that the decision was more about finding a comfortable solution for Germany and the Netherlands, which were blocking the deal in the final phase.
And another diplomat added that while "a move towards qualified majority voting in this area is something that we can not escape - mainly due to the pressure for more transparency and involvement of MEPs, it will not necessarily make the decision-making faster."
"These issues are connected with the very core of member states' sovereignty - with their legal systems which are different - and so it takes time to find the basic agreement favourable to all in the first place," the contact said, adding that it often does not make that much difference when a country acts alone to block a proposal.
"On the other hand, countries like Germany and France will always have enough power to block a kind of decision they don't agree with - be it under unanimity or majority voting."
"And finally, the legislation adopted by majority and under co-decision with the European Parliament also takes time - often even longer, while its quality after such a procedure could be challenged," the Brussels-based diplomat noted.
The commission's package also envisages a stronger role for itself in taking member states to the European Court of Justice if they don't implement the bloc's rules in the area of justice and home affairs.
At the moment, several measures aimed at combating cross-border crime or terrorism have not been implemented.
Only Spain has so far transposed rules on joint investigation teams for example, while only five out of 25 states have implemented legislation to combat child pornography and sexual exploitation.
In a separate proposal, the commission has suggested the EU should scrap a temporary limitation on the Luxembourg court's access to cases on immigration, asylum or visa issues.
Citizens currently have to use all national legal possibilities before the EU court can be consulted, which Brussels argues is discriminatory against disadvantaged groups, such as asylum seekers or immigrants.