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15th Apr 2024

National justice veto survives EU Tampere meeting

EU justice ministers have shown disagreement on whether to give up their national veto on counter-terrorism and cross-border policing - resulting in the veto still standing after a key meeting in Finland.

Finland - currently holding the rotating EU presidency - along with the European Commission, failed on Friday (22 September) to convince the bloc's 25 justice and home affairs ministers to scrap their right to veto decisions related to crime, the judiciary and immigration in order to boost effective EU policy-making in this area.

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The issue has escalated into a major obstacle to the EU's security and anti-terrorism ambitions, the commission said, arguing that the bloc could not wait for the adoption of the shelved EU constitution which would introduce voting by majority.

"Can we abandon efforts because we want the constitution in force? My answer, and the answer of many members states is no," EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini said.

"I agree that we need the constitution but if we wait then it is possible to be paralysed."

He added that "Europe is not a joke. It's like a bicycle, either it goes ahead or it falls to the ground."

The meeting represented the first occasion when member states officially discuss proposals - presented by Brussels in May - to trigger the so-called "passerelle" or "bridge" clause in the current EU treaty, which provides for the possibility of lifting the justice veto without actually changing the treaty itself.

Brussels says there is an urgent need for change after the terror attacks in London and Madrid and at least four foiled plots in Europe this year alone, to ensure that proposed legislation does not gather dust as it awaits unanimous support.

The Finnish interior minister Kari Rajamaki said "New EU-level initiatives concerning police cooperation are being held back by practical problems stemming from current decision-making procedures."

"What citizens expect of the EU is added value in security matters, especially in combatting organised crime and terrorism," he stated.

Cherry-picking

Germany as expected was among the member states opposing the passrelle, fearing that it will undermine efforts to revive the EU constitution as a whole – one of the prime objectives of the German EU presidency starting next January.

"Once you start cherry picking, you devalue the real thing. That's our big concern. We want the constitutional treaty to be passed in its entirety," warned German justice minister Brigitte Zypries.

Mr Rajamaki sketched broader skepticism around the table, with some delegations countering Mr Frattini's "bike" metaphor with remarks like "if you put your feet on the ground you won't fall," while still others added that "if you don't have a chain, you fall even when moving forward."

Mr Frattini however made clear that Brussels would not give up on its plans. "We have to continue this very important political discussion," he said, adding that member states had a "common goodwill to continue discussing".

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