Category Archives: Justice and Internal Affairs

Very Good Proposal on Schengen

The Commission has put forward a proposal for improving the institutional framework of the Schengen area. First, the Commission proposes a strengthening of the Schengen evaluation mechanism. Announced and unannounced monitoring visits to a given Member State by Commission-led teams with experts from other Member States and Frontex will verify the application of the Schengen rules. Second, the Commission tackles the problem of unilateral reintroduction of borders. Such a decision for the reintroduction of internal border controls for foreseeable events (such as an important sporting event or a major political meeting) would be taken at the European level on the basis of a proposal by the European Commission backed by a ‘qualified majority’ of Member States’ experts. If a Member State fails to adequately protect a part of the EU’s external border, support measures including technical and financial support from the Commission, from Member States, from FRONTEX or other agencies like Europol or the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), can be taken.

The proposed measures are a big step forward for the European border security policy. However, a few Member States have already expressed skepticism, citing the national sovereignty as the main reason. They seem to have forgotten the very poor response of France and Italy to the wave of sea-borne migrants due to the Arab Spring revolutions in North Africa.

It will be very interesting to observe the debate on the Commission proposals, since border security is one of the factors that will define the viability of the European project.

 

 

The Ghost of Hatred is Roaming in Europe

Yesterday a terrible crime was committed in Norway, leaving more than 90 people dead. A lone terrorist was able firs to explode a bomb in the centre of Oslo and then to shoot at least 80 people, many of whom were teenagers. We know very little about his motivation, but it appears that he held far-right, and anti-Muslim views. So let’s say it bluntly: the ghost of racial and religious hatred is roaming in Europe. We have to stop it.

I have watched with indignation the rise of far-right parties in the EU – from Netherlands to France and from Bulgaria to Italy. Everywhere across Europe the narrative of cheap nationalism and populism, the language of hatred and discrimination has become fashionable. Even mainstream politicians have flirted with it. This has to stop.

Europe has suffered too often from its stereotypes of hatred. After all, we nearly exterminated a whole ethnos just 70 years ago. I refuse to look the other way when the same old disease is surfacing. And I cannot overlook the role of media in this. Yesterday, while it was still unclear who was responsible for the events in Oslo, an English newspaper put this headline on its first page, claiming that the bombing was orchestrated by Al Qaeda. This was happening while various counterterrorism experts on Twitter were explaining that it was quite unlikely that Al Qaeda was involved. This was not an innocent mistake. We live in a time when many people in the media business do enjoy flirting with far-right agendas, because they know that hatred sells. Mr. Murdoch’s publications are not the only ones involved. We have to stop this.

It is quite obvious that the European countries do have a problem with the integration of immigrants. A lot can be done here. First, we need to address border security. Second, we need to foster integration of immigrants, without resorting to defeatist language, while taking into account the security concerns of our citizens. Third, we need to redesign development programs for developing countries. Fourth, we need to help designing programs for adaptation to climate change in developing countries. Fifth, we need to persecute crimes motivated by religious hatred and crime.

This agenda is much more important than any other agenda of the European Union. It needs leadership and determination. The alternative is grim. The ghost of hatred is still a ghost. We have to stop it.

UPDATE: Please look at the faces of the victims from the Utoya shooting.

 

2011 Reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

The European Commission has published its fifth progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for 2011. The reports monitor the progress of the two Member States on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.

The report on Bulgaria notes that Bulgaria has strengthened the Supreme Judicial Council and improved rules for the appointment, professional training, appraisals and promotions of judges. Several organised crime and corruption cases have reached verdicts in court. At the same time, an increased number of indictments in cases related to organised crime and fraud with EU funds have been achieved. The report notes that the leadership of the Bulgarian judiciary has yet to show a real commitment to thorough judicial reform as slow progress is not just the result of shortcomings in judicial practice and in the Penal Code. Again and again the Commission points out that judicial appointments still lack the necessary level of transparency and credibility. The report also notes that there is a lack of consistent disciplinary practice in the judiciary. The Commission sees weaknesses in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses as well as in investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and the securing of assets. The Commission recommends that coordination within the prosecution and between the prosecution and the police should be improved. The most important recommendation of the Commission is to establish proposals for a reform of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office and the Prosecution in general regarding structures, legal attributions, composition, appointments and internal organization.

The report on Romania points to the significant steps Romania took since the last annual report of July 2010. Romania improved judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of the four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy. At the same time, the report also notes that consistency and results in a number of areas remain a challenge and that progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued. The report concludes that Romania needs to take urgent action to accelerate high-level corruption trials and to prevent their prescription due to expiry of statute-barred periods. The fight against corruption should remain a top priority, with support from Parliament, and urgent measures should be taken to improve the recovery of proceeds of crime, the pursuit of money laundering and the protection against conflict of interest in the management of public funds.

 

 

Commission Proposal for the New Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020

The Commission has put forward its proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework of the European Union for the period 2014-2020. The Multiannual Financial Framework is the main budgeting document of the EU for the seven-year period, and little can be changed once it is adopted. The proposal has to be approved by the Member States and the Parliament.

The main innovations:

1. Expenses

  • A new fund for financing infrastructure, the Connecting Europe Facility that includes a preliminary list of transport, energy and ICT projects;
  • Stronger link of cohesion financing with the Europe 2020 objectives;
  • New category of ‘transition regions';
  • New conditionality provisions;
  • Partnership contracts with each Member State to ensure mutual reinforcement of national and EU funding;
  • An integrated programme of €15.2 billion for education, training and youth, with a clear focus on developing skills and mobility;
  • A common EU strategy called “Horizon 2020″ for investment in research and innovation worth 80 billion €;
  • 30% of direct support to farmers will be conditional on “greening” their businesses;
  • €4.1 billion for the fight against crime and terrorism and €3.4 billion for migration and asylum policies.

2. Revenues

  • New own resources for financing the budget- a financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) and a new modernized VAT;
  • Simplification of the existing correction mechanisms.

You can also read the critical assessment of the proposal by Charlemagne. Real Time Brussels looks at the fierce political battles that will likely emerge in the process of adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework.

 

Corrupted Politicians, Beware! EU is Watching You!

The Commission has proposed a set of measures to address the harm that corruption causes to European societies. The Commission is setting up a new mechanism, the EU Anti-Corruption Report, to monitor and assess Member States’ efforts against corruption and encourage more political engagement. Supported by an expert group and a network of research correspondents, and the necessary EU budget, the Report will be managed by the Commission and published every two years, starting in 2013. It will identify trends and weaknesses that need to be addressed, as well as stimulate peer learning and exchange of best practices.

How effective will the report be? It’s a very good sign that the EU will have a more focused approach towards diagnosing serious corruption in Member states. But it’s far from certain that ample treatment will follow the diagnosis. If we consider the experience with the reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania, it appears that the Commission reports stir a lot of emotions and produce fewer practical results.

Any effort to independently monitor corruption levels in any Member state should be commended. The Commission should also consider benefiting from the existing monitoring mechanisms set up by Transparency International and OECD.

 

 

What Do We Really Want from the EU?

European citizens should think more about their demands when talking about the EU. Here’s why.

These are not the best of times for the European Union. There’s a financial crisis; an immigration crisis; a crisis of trust, and who knows what else. In a nutshell, the EU is in trouble.

What is more difficult to comprehend is the malignancy and the “I-told-you-so” attitude of so many politicians, commentators and European citizens. The poignancy of the negative feelings is really remarkable. That is why I would like to do something unusual for this blog and address these skeptics. My objective is to provide a merciless, subjective and heavily normative critique of the complacency of those that seem to prefer a European future without a European Union.

In order to do that, I need to make an important observation. Homo Sapiens has not evolved substantially during the last 60 years. That being said, the claims that a new war on the European continent is impossible seem strange. It was not the tanks and airplanes that destroyed Europe during World War II, it was the people in them. What is more, our physical and genetic ancestors have waged war on one another for at least two millennia on this continent. In fact, the only longer peaceful episode in recent history has been the period of European integration. It’s true that NATO and the dynamic of nuclear deterrence also played a part. But it was the cooperation of European elites within the European Community that cemented this security pact.

Nowadays many believe that wars are part of the history, but not of the future. Others think that wars may be a useful instrument of foreign policy. What unites them is the lack of any wartime experience. This virus of complacency and ignorance is widespread. It has caught up with politicians, journalists, and all kinds of experts. The McDonalds rule is their flag, although it has already been broken. This virus makes them think that states are well equipped to solve emerging problems using the classic instruments of intergovernmental cooperation. The problem with their narratives is that this type of cooperation has recently failed spectacularly – with the UN Climate Change Conference failing to agree on new rules for climate change mitigation, WTO failing to agree on the completion of the Doha round, and the G-20 failing to agree on anything except for the summit menu. These are not just incidents; these are symptoms of the limitations of the classic forms of international cooperation.

Someone might argue that if the EU were so successful, it wouldn’t have experienced its recent crisis. That is true. The EU is not perfect, and we are now bearing the fruits of the lax rules of the Economic and Monetary Union. But it is much better than any other form of cooperation especially given the small economies of many Member States. This issue of economic efficiency is usually not discussed by euroskeptics. The truth is that without the European Union economic life in Europe would definitely slow down, and businesses know that. This is the problem of some anti-EU parties: their constituencies will actually suffer from any possible withdrawal from the Union. That is why they prefer to grumble about the EU without taking a meaningful step towards resolution of their grievances. Referendums should be held in each and every Member State that feels the need to take a different path to prosperity. The United Kingdom should be particularly encouraged to conduct a referendum on its EU membership. The European Union is not a club of convenience; its success depends on the high motivation of its members.

The European Union is not at a crossroads. It is a well-functioning and unique mechanism for political integration. It’s up to its users – the European citizens, to use it properly. It will deliver results only if we command it to do so. That is why from now on I would like to hear more demands, and less chaotic criticism when discussing the EU.

Commission’s Vision on EU Borders and Migration

By now you must have heard that the Mediterranean Member States are experiencing some serious difficulties in managing the wave of new migrants from North Africa. The governments of Italy and France have stepped in and suggested temporal reintroduction of border controls due to the migrant wave. Now the European Commission has issued its own Communication on migration.

The Commission notes that the EU is not fully equipped to help those Member States most exposed to massive migratory movements. That is why it believes that the feasibility of creating a European system of borders guards should be considered. The Commission also recommends adopting a risk-based approach and ensuring greater use of modern technology at land as well as sea borders.

The Commission advocates for a mechanism that would allow the EU to handle situations where either a Member State is not fulfilling its obligations to control its section of the external border, or where a particular portion of the external border comes under unexpected and heavy pressure due to external events. The mechanism should be used as a last resort in truly critical situations.

The Commission also calls for the incorporation of enhanced readmission obligations into the framework agreements concluded with third countries.

One important claim of the Commission is that a European entry-exit system would ensure that data on the crossing of the border by third country nationals would be available for border control and immigration authorities.

The Commission intends to present by 2012 a Green Paper on addressing labour shortages through migration in the EU Member States.

In general the Commission says that the EU should step up its efforts to address the drivers of migration with a special focus on employment issues, governance and demographic developments.

The Communication on migration is a well prepared and consistent document, but it remains to be seen how Member States will act on it.

Why Reforming Schengen is Not That Easy

France and Italy have signaled their desire to push for a reform of the Schengen framework for border control. One of the most important proposals is the procedural right to temporarily re-establish border controls between two countries. The European Commission is scheduled to present its own plans for amending the Schengen rules next week (4 May).

The Schengen border security legal framework is now part of the EU acquis. Any revision of the Schengen framework goes through a codecision procedure, where the European Parliament is a co-legislator with the Council (see art. 77, para. 2 TFEU). More, the Commission is the only body that can propose legislation on border checks, asylum and immigration (see a contrario art. 76 TFEU). Whatever France and Italy propose is of no relevance; the Member States do not have a right of initiative on these matters.

On all these accounts I am quite skeptical that Italy and France will succeed to push an amendment of the Schengen framework that seriously undermines the principles of the current regime. Any significant policy overhaul must be accompanied by a careful impact assessment and discussions not only among governments of Member States, but also with relevant stakeholders. It will take more than a bilateral summit to do that.

New Directive on Human Trafficking

The new Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims has been published in the Official Journal. The directive repeals the old Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA.

The directive adopts a broader concept of what should be considered trafficking in human beings and includes additional forms of exploitation. These include forced begging, exploitation of criminal activities, etc.

Is OLAF Authorized to Search EP Premises?

The simple answer is yes. Some justification follows.

First – some background of the case. The English newspaper Sunday Times has conducted an investigation, claiming that several MEPs were willing to take money in exchange for filing legislative amendments. Three MEPs were named – the Austrian centre-right Ernst Strasser, the Slovenian Socialist Zoran Thaler and the Romanian Socialist Adrian Severin. OLAF decided to open a formal investigation immediately and OLAF investigators attempted to collect evidence from the offices of the concerned MEPs located at the premises of the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday 22 March. However, the EP authorities refused to give access to these offices and claimed these would be secured by EP security personnel.

The EP clearly erred here. As OLAF has pointed out in its statement, its competences are outlined in art. 325 TFEU, and Regulation (EC) No 1073/1999 concerning investigations conducted by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Art. 1, para. 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1073/1999 specifically points out that OLAF shall conduct administrative investigations within the institutions for the purpose of fighting fraud, corruption and any other illegal activity affecting the financial interests of the EU. Art. 4, para. 2 clearly says that OLAF has the right of immediate and unannounced access to any information held by the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, and to their premises. In addition, Annex XII to the Rules of Procedure of the EP the services and any official or servant of the EP is required to cooperate fully with the Office’s agents and to lend any assistance required to the investigation.

Now, someone might claim that by providing the documents in question, the EP might have cooperated in good faith without granting physical access to OLAF. This is not true, however. First, the purpose of immediate and unannounced access to information and documents is to prevent any opportunity for tampering the evidence. Second, the EP officials are not trained and do not have legal authorization to open locked premises, document containers, etc.