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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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Justice and Home Affairs

The ministers responsible for these areas meet formally six times a year in the Justice and Home Affairs Council, where they discuss progress made in cooperation in this field. The principles underlying judicial assistance and police cooperation are freedom, security and justice. The aim is to ensure the free movement of European Union citizens and third country nationals resident in the European Union. At the same time, it is important to guarantee security for everyone by combating all forms of organised crime (trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation of children, drugs trafficking, illegal trading in arms and cars, corruption and fraud) and terrorism.

- Legal basis
- An area of freedom, security and justice
- Cooperation on asylum and immigration policy
- Judicial cooperation in civil matters
- Police and judicial cooperation in the European Union

Legal basis

The Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which came into force in 1993, provided a new legal basis for police and judicial cooperation as well as cooperation in home affairs by completing the Community structure with a third pillar. Cooperation covers seven areas of common interest: asylum, the crossing of external borders, immigration, combating drugs and drug addiction, combating international fraud, judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters and police and customs cooperation. Since these are often highly sensitive areas, the treaty attaches enormous importance to the sovereignty of Member States and to the EU institutions that directly involve the Member States. The powers of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice are therefore limited.

The Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force on 1 May 1999, strengthened cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs by transferring a range of powers to the first pillar (Community). These are visas, asylum, immigration and other policies relating to the free movement of persons. In addition, judicial cooperation in civil matters now comes under the first pillar of the Treaty on European Union. Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, however, remains a matter for the third pillar.

The Treaty of Amsterdam has also added the prevention of racism and xenophobia to the third pillar.

An area of freedom, security and justice

The 1999 Tampere European Summit was devoted to establishing an area of freedom, security and justice:

  • area of freedom: i.e. the implementation of the free movement of persons in accordance with the Schengen acquis, protection of human rights and combating all forms of discrimination;
  • area of security: i.e. the prevention of crime, particularly combating terrorism, trafficking in human beings, crimes against children, drugs trafficking, arms trafficking, corruption and fraud. Europol has been brought to play a central role in this respect in order to strengthen operational cooperation among Member States;
  • area of justice: despite the differences between Member States, the Union wishes to ensure efficient and equal access to the legal system for all European citizens by enhancing cooperation between the judicial authorities.

Cooperation on asylum and immigration policy

Visa, asylum, immigration and other policies relating to the free movement of persons have been a matter for the first pillar of the Treaty on European Union since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force. The latter lists several objectives with the aim of (partially) harmonising asylum and immigration policy.

The Tampere European Council (1999) subsequently established four priorities in these two areas:

  • partnership with the countries of origin of many immigrants;
  • common asylum procedure;
  • proper treatment of legal immigrants;
  • management of influx of immigrants and combating illegal immigration.

The European Council of the 5 November 2004 has agreed to the use of qualified majority voting (QMV) and co-decision in the fields of asylum, illegal immigration and border control.

Before this decision taken by the Council, parliament’s involvement in these matters was ruled by the co-decision procedure. As of 1 April 2005, parliament and the Council will share legislative power in these fields (see above). But legal immigration will remain an exception to this rule, owing to some states’ preference not to delegate sovereignty in this particular field.

This passage from unanimity to QMV is projected for 1 April 2005 at the latest by the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe as well as the Nice treaty currently in force.

Judicial cooperation in civil matters

Judicial cooperation in civil matters focuses on enhanced cooperation between the authorities of the Member States. It aims to simplify and improve procedures for the cross-border notification of documents, cooperation in the obtaining of evidence, and the recognition and execution of decisions in civil and commercial matters. It also seeks to favour the compatibility of regulations in terms of conflicts of laws, procedures and the jurisdiction of courts. Since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force, cooperation in civil matters has also been encompassed within the Union’s first (Community) pillar.

The Tampere Council set out three specific priorities:

  • mutual recognition of judicial decisions;
  • improved regulations for compensating the victims of crime;
  • greater convergence in the civil law of EU Member States.

Police and judicial cooperation in the European Union

The aim is to ensure a high level of security and protection for all European Union citizens through cooperation between the various EU police forces. The European Police Office (Europol) plays a key role in this regard. Eurojust, meanwhile, was created to ensure cooperation between the different EU public prosecution services. Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters also comes under the third pillar of the Treaty on European Union. All the Member States have in the meantime introduced legislation to combat the same forms of corruption, fraud, drugs trafficking, trafficking in human beings and smuggling. They now have their own legislation to penalise acts of terrorism.

This page was last modified on : 29-12-2004

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