Newsletter 3/2010 - From Brussels angle
INTERVIEW with Jonathan Faull, Director General for Justice, Freedom and Security, European Commission
Independence and accountability of the judiciary key requirements during the EU accession process
Mr Faull, can you list three greatest EU achievements in the field of justice and home affairs in the last seven years while you served as Director General for Justice, Freedom and Security in the European Commission?
1. Expansion of the Schengen area
Since December 2007, 22 EU Member States are in the Schengen area without internal border control. The Schengen Convention abolished controls at the internal borders between the signatories, harmonized controls at the external frontiers of the ‘Schengen area’ and introduced a common policy on short-stay visas for third-country nationals and other accompanying measures like police and judicial cooperation. The Schengen cooperation has made travel easier not only for EU citizens, but also for non-EU nationals. Since the Schengen area was established, all travelers who enter the area lawfully can travel freely within it without being submitted to border checks (for up to three months within a six-month period). Non-EU travelers who would normally need 22 visas to visit all the Schengen Member States can now do this with a single visa. Three countries of the Western Balkans (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) have been benefitting from the visa free entry to the Schengen area since 19 December 2009.
2. Implementation of the European Arrest Warrant
The progressive elimination of border control within the EU has considerably facilitated the free movement of European citizens, but has also made it easier for criminals to operate trans-nationally. In order to face the challenge of international crime, the EU is progressing toward a single area of justice. On 13 June 2002, the EU Council of ministers adopted a framework decision on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between Member States of the European Union. The EU Member States were required to introduce legislation to bring the European arrest warrant (EAW) into force by 1 January 2004. The European Arrest Warrant, valid throughout the European Union, has replaced extradition procedures between Member States of the enlarged Europe. The EAW means faster and simpler surrender procedures and no more political involvement. It also means that Member States can no longer refuse to surrender to another Member State their own citizens who have committed a serious crime, or who are suspected of having committed such a crime in another EU country, on the ground that they are nationals. Simplifying and improving the surrendering procedure between EU Member States was made possible by a high level of mutual trust and cooperation between countries who share the same highly demanding conception of the rule of law.
3. The Prüm Treaty on cross-border cooperation
On 27 May 2005, Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria signed in Prüm/Germany a Treaty on the stepping up of cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration (the Prüm Treaty). Since then, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Estonia have acceded to the Treaty. By November 2009, the Treaty is in force in 14 Member States of the European Union. The Treaty foresees an array of police cooperation measures: the exchange of DNA profiles, dactyloscopic data, vehicle registration data, non-personal and personal data for major events and information in order to prevent terrorism, the cooperation in the field of air marshals, document advisers and in joint operations, assistance in repatriation measures and in connection with mass gatherings, disasters and serious accidents. By 28 August 2011, the Prüm Decisions have to be fully implemented by all Member States.
Are there any provisions in Stockholm Programme (EU strategy on justice and home affairs for 2011-2014), related to South East Europe or Western Balkans?
Yes, there are. The Western Balkans region is mentioned under the priority areas for cooperation. For candidate countries and countries with a European Union membership perspective, the main objective will be to assist them in transposing the EU acquis.
In the Western Balkans, Stabilisation and Association Agreements are progressively entering into force and notable progress has been made in the area of visa policy, with visa facilitation and readmission agreements in place and a comprehensive visa liberalisation dialogue already achieved for some countries and still under way for others. Further efforts, including use of financial instruments, are needed to combat organized crime and corruption, to guarantee fundamental rights and to build administrative capacities in border management, law enforcement and the judiciary in order to make the European perspective a reality. The EU will assist the countries in their efforts in the above mentioned areas.
How do you view the importance of efficient functioning of judicial systems for the overall progress of a society? What do the countries from our region need to do in order for their justice systems to fully meet EU standards and requirements? And what are the lessons learned from your experience that you think could also be useful for the countries of South East Europe?
Independence and accountability of the judiciary are key requirements during the EU accession process. The European Commission is closely monitoring the judicial reform processes in the countries of the region. The 2009 annual reports of the Commission on the countries of the Western Balkans noted good progress in the area of justice reform, but efforts are necessary in particular as regards independence, effectiveness, budgetary allocation and human resources. The recommendations developed by the Council of Europe on these issues can serve as key advice to direct future reform efforts. In order to maintain independence, the appointment and promotion of judges and prosecutors must be independent and beyond any undue influence of the legislative or the executive. There must be transparency in the procedures and conditions for the selection, appraisal and dismissal of judges and prosecutors. Court systems need further modernization and efforts should continue to reduce the huge backlog of cases.
What do you see happening with visa liberalization by the end of 2010 for the Western Balkan countries which are still outside the liberalized regime?
The visa free regime entered into force with three countries of the region (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) on 19 December 2009. Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina were not included as they did not meet the benchmarks. In their joint Declaration of November 2009, the European Parliament and the EU Council invited the Commission to present a legislative proposal for amending Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 as soon as it has assessed that each country meets the benchmarks set out in the Commission’s roadmaps, with a view to achieving visa liberalization for the citizens of those countries as soon as possible. The Commission adopted its proposal on changing the visa regulation 539/2001 on 27 May 2010 and sent it to the Council and the European Parliament. It suggests moving both countries to the Schengen white list, provided that they meet the outstanding benchmarks before a final decision is taken by the Council and the European Parliament. A new round of expert missions will take place in the next months. On the basis of the Member States experts’ reports, the Commission will present a new assessment on the outstanding issues before the Council and the European Parliament will take their final decisions.
Corruption and organized crime are ever-present issues – how can they be best fought in South East Europe?
Organized crime is a threat to the economy and society in Europe. Criminal groups have managed to infiltrate all sections of society, taking advantage of the free movement of capital, goods, persons and services within the European Union and exploiting differences in the legal systems of the Member States.
The integrated approach guiding the action of the EU extends from prevention to law enforcement. This is based essentially on effective cooperation between the authorities of the Member States, and especially the law enforcement agencies, including the exchange of information and mutual assistance in seizures and confiscations.
The EU accession ambitions of the Western Balkan countries require a coordinated and effective response to these phenomena in the region. To combat organized crime effectively, regional multidisciplinary law enforcement cooperation is required.
The Commission attaches high importance to deepening EU law enforcement cooperation and exchange of information also with the countries of the region in efficiently tackling all types of organized crime.
Corruption remains a widespread problem in most Western Balkan countries and it undermines policy efforts in different areas such as the judiciary. Corruption is an obstacle to democratic stability, the rule of law, accountable institutions and economic development.
A firm zero-tolerance approach, awareness raising and the threat of legal penalties, serious investigation and prosecution, are a sine qua non in this respect. The effective implementation of international instruments against corruption is equally central to achieving good results against this phenomenon.
How do you see the role of the Regional Cooperation Council in developing cooperation on justice and home affairs in South East Europe?
The RCC could play a key role in developing coherent regional approach in priority areas for work such as harmonization of citizenship legislation with EU standards, reform of the justice system and combating corruption.
The RCC should continue organizing conferences for policy discussions and donor coordination on justice and home affairs matters. The RCC could also assist the Commission in identifying priority areas for the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA).
Jonathan Faull has been occupying the post of Director General for Justice, Freedom and Security at the European Commission since 2003. Prior to that, he performed duties of Director General for Press and Communication and Deputy Director General at the Directorate General for Competition. Mr. Faull has also been engaged by the Free University of Brussels as a Professor of Law since 1989.