21st Sep 2019

Europe moves toward single area on justice and home affairs

  • Police officers will be sent on exchange schemes to other member states (Photo: EUobserver)

EU leaders on Friday (11 December) adopted a five-year plan giving a greater role to community bodies in the area of justice and home affairs, establishing an "internal security strategy" and pointing toward a common asylum system by 2012.

The so-called Stockholm programme tries to combine a Swedish EU presidency focus on civil rights with more security-driven provisions, including a tougher stance on illegal immigration - something called for by Italy and other Mediterranean countries.

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Training and exchange programmes for policemen and judges to facilitate co-operation at a personal level are also part of the scheme.

"The challenge is to ensure respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and integrity while guaranteeing security in Europe," European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said after the meeting of the bloc's leaders.

Under the provisions of the new EU treaty, which came into force on 1 December, Brussels gains more powers in the area of justice and home affairs, through the strengthening of agencies such as Frontex, the border management agency and Europol, the police co-operation body.

An "internal security" body (COSI) will also be set up within the Council of the EU, the administrative body serving member states in their decision-making process.

Friday's Stockholm agreement called for the development of an EU-wide "internal security strategy," focusing on the division of labour between Brussels and national capitals in counter-terrorism, border management, civil protection and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.

The new security body (COSI) would be tasked to develop, monitor and implement this strategy.

However, civil liberty watchdogs fear that this body will lack transparency and accountability. "COSI is going to be a very powerful body ...and should be accountable to national and European parliaments," Tony Bunyan from Statewatch writes.

National parliamentarians also flagged up concerns when debating the programme together with the European Parliament last month.

Annie David of the French Senate said "the security aspects of the programme are worrying" and give the impression of a "fortress Europe." 

All measures for implementing the Stockholm programme will have to be tabled by the EU commission by June next year.

Unlike the previous five-year programme, which ends this year, the European Parliament will now have the power to co-decide on every piece of legislation needed for putting the Stockholm programme in place.

Common asylum policy by 2012

The blueprint also reconfirms the aim of setting up a common asylum system by 2012, based on the "solidarity principle," which southern states, affected by migration from Africa, have long been calling for. This would allow re-location of asylum seekers from countries faced with large migrant flows to states to another member state.

"Well-managed migration can be beneficial to all stakeholders. Europe will need a flexible policy which is responsive to the priorities and needs of member states and enables migrants to take full advantage of their potential," the document reads.

Human rights organisations are likely to be concerned by the strong security and law-enforcement wording in the text: "In order to maintain credible and sustainable immigration and asylum systems in the EU, it is necessary to prevent, control and combat illegal migration as the EU faces an increasing pressure from illegal migration flows and particularly the member states at its external borders, including at its southern borders."

Rome's infamous extradition agreement with Libya, sending back migrant boats before they reach Italy's territorial waters, has so far gone unpunished by the EU, despite an outcry by civil society.

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