EC outlines plan to improve mobility within the EU22 April 2010
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 22 April 2010
European leaders endorsed 170 initiatives last December known as the Stockholm Programme. The measures are aimed at creating a genuine European area of freedom, security and justice in the next five years. The Commission has now turned these political objectives into an action plan for 2010-2014.
In the justice, fundamental rights and citizenship area, the Commission plan includes the following 10 concrete actions to help Europeans work, study and travel in the EU and to support economic activity in the Single Market:
1. Protecting personal data
European legislation and Treaties guarantee the protection of personal data (Article 8 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights). The 1995 European Data Protection Directive ensures that EU citizens' data are protected in the context of all EU policies, including law enforcement, crime prevention and international relations. This also includes the use and development of new technologies, such as RFID devices, social networking sites or security scanners at airports.
The Commission will tackle these issues with two concrete actions. First, before the end of the year, the Data Protection Directive will be modernised to respond to the latest technological developments and to integrate in a coherent way the already existing data protection instruments in the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (Framework Decision 2008/977/JHA). The same data protection principles should apply – no matter whether your data are processed for commercial or public enforcement principles (legislative proposal before the end of 2010).
Second, the Commission will present a negotiation text by June for an "umbrella" data protection agreement between the EU and the US. This data protection agreement will set out which data can be shared with the US for law enforcement purposes exclusively (data for commercial purposes are not covered). The agreement aims to provide legal certainty and a set of clearly defined rights for EU citizens, such as the possibility to file complaints about misused data. EU citizens' complaints should be handled in the same manner as American citizens in US courts (legislative proposal, June 2010).
2. Stronger procedural rights for suspects in criminal proceedings
As more Europeans travel, study and work outside their home countries, the chance that they become involved in criminal proceedings increases. It is important to ensure that they still receive a fair trial if this occurs.
The Commission on 9 March took the first step and proposed robust translation and interpretation rights for suspects in criminal proceedings. The next step will follow this summer on the right to information (letter of rights and information on charges). Further procedural rights will be added progressively: a proposal on the right to legal advice and legal aid (legislative proposal, 2011), the right to communicate with relatives and consular authorities (legislative proposal, 2012), a proposal to protect the especially vulnerable – e.g. children – in criminal proceedings (legislative proposal, 2013).
3. Better protection for EU citizens abroad
EU citizens must feel protected when they travel outside their home country and the EU. Any EU citizen who is in a country where his or her Member State is not represented needs to be sure of receiving consular assistance from embassies or consulates of any other Member State on the same conditions as their nationals. Diplomatic and consular protection in third countries is an important part of EU-Citizenship. The Lisbon Treaty (Article 20 TFEU) provides the EU with the competence to adopt legislation in this area. The Commission will present legislative proposals on improving financial compensation of consular protection in crisis situations and implementing the right to consular protection.
There are more 500,000 cross-border road accidents a year in Europe. EU law has helped resolve which country's law applies to those accidents, but citizens are confronted with massive confusion with insurance claims. They may have a short time period to file a claim. The Commission could harmonise these limitation periods for liability, giving consumers and businesses more legal certainty (legislative proposal, 2011).
The Package Travel Directive is outdated following changes in technology and new market developments. The Directive dates to 1990 when most holidays in Europe were packaged trips. EU citizens (56%) organise their holidays themselves rather than buying pre-defined packages. As a result, fewer consumers are protected when they go on holiday. Consumers are using so-called "dynamic packages" to put together their own travel arrangements through Internet-based services. This trend has created legal uncertainty for businesses and consumers. A revised Directive will clarify legal "grey zones" and possibly extend the scope to ensure that more dynamic packages are covered.
4. More legal certainty for international marriages
Following an EU proposal to allow international couples to choose which country's law applies to their divorce, the Commission will make a similar proposal this year on which law will apply when it comes to the division of couples' property during these proceedings.
5. Less administrative burdens for citizens
Europeans who want to get married, adopt a child or change their civil status should not face additional administrative burdens if they are outside their home country. For example, a Finnish woman who falls in love with a man from the UK would have to submit a certificate of no impediment from the UK to get married. The UK does not provide such documents. To avoid these kinds of situations, the Commission will propose a law for the mutual recognition of certain civil status documents.
6. Helping businesses to operate cross-border
If companies are to invest and operate cross-border, they need to have trust in Europe's Single Market – especially in today's economic context. At present, companies only recover 37% of cross-border debts while more than 60% of cross-border debts cannot be enforced. To address this problem and stimulate the incentive to do business cross-border, the Commission will propose legislation on a European "attachment" of bank accounts. This measure will ensure that money that is owed does not disappear.
Legal certainty is crucial for motivating businesses to do commerce across borders. If you know the rules of the country where you would like to do business, you will be much more willing to offer your services/goods rather than studying different 27 regimes. These 27 contractual regimes will remain. The Commission is preparing an additional and optional contract law instrument – something similar to the US Uniform Commercial Code. Companies could then choose to apply this instrument to their contractual relations – no matter in which EU country they have their business.
7. Fighting violence against women
Combating violence against women is a top priority for the Commission. When a judge delivers a protection order for a spouse, she should be able to travel or move to another Member State and be assured that the order will be upheld. The Commission will present comprehensive legislation on protecting victims. The proposals will include practical measures to develop a European Protection Order.
8. Enhancing victims' rights
Crime affects one out of four Europeans every year. When people are abroad, they often don’t know where to turn for help or protection. It is also harder to report a crime or to receive compensation.
Justice systems need to be sensitive to victims' needs, whether as witnesses, getting support from counsellors, overcoming trauma or receiving compensation.
The Commission will propose comprehensive rules on victims' rights. These proposals will set common standards for legal systems for treating victims. The measures will cover every stage in the justice process from the police and judges to medical officers and counsellors.
9. Protecting children
Parents and children need to be able to call help quickly and free of charge while travelling in the EU. In the UK and Belgium, more than 7,500 children were reported missing in 2007 (www.missingchildreneurope.eu). Public concern about child safety has been heightened by cases like the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal. In 2007, the Commission took action by reserving, at national level, six-digit numbers starting with 116 for missing children hotlines (116000) and for help lines (116111) with which children can seek assistance.
After having closely monitored that 116000 is reserved by EU countries, the Commission last year urged Member States to support 116000 hotline operators so that parents and children can call 116000 when they need it, everywhere in Europe.
The Commission plans to propose a Regulation on EU hotlines for missing children in 2012.
10. Better justice enforcement across Europe
For criminal investigators to do their job properly, they often need to cooperate with their colleagues in different countries. That is why a network of national prosecutors, magistrates, or police officers called Eurojust was established in October 1999.
To remove obstacles to effective law enforcement, Member States already cooperate through EU agencies and bodies such as Eurojust. The Commission will propose giving Eurojust powers to directly initiate investigations. At the same time, the proposals would make Eurojust's internal structure more efficient and involve the European Parliament and national parliaments in evaluating Eurojust's activities.
These steps may lead to the creation of the European Public Prosecutor Office, which would deal with investigating and prosecuting offences against the EU's financial interests, such as tax fraud. The Lisbon Treaty (Article 86 TFEU) outlines this option for Eurojust.
Source: European Commission