Statewatch News Online: EU - "The Hague Programme" on justice and home affairs

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EU - "The Hague Programme" on justice and home affairs

- Pogramme to be adopted on 5 November leaving no time for parliaments and civil society for react

The Netherlands Presidency of the Council of the European Union (the 25 member state governments) have produced a new draft programme for justice and home affairs (now referred to as "freedom, security and justice"). The programme follows on from the Tampere programme adopted in 1999 and is to be adopted at a EU Summit in Brussels on 4-5 November. The "Hague Programme" is not yet a public document so there will be little or no time for parliaments and civil society to react. It is intended that the detail will be set out in an Action Plan to be produced by the European Commission in 2005.

The Hague Programme: strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union (pdf)
"The Hague Programme": strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union [doc no: 13302/2/04, 22.10.04, annotated by Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex] (pdf)
Statewatch's Timetable derived from the Programme (pdf)

Points to note

The proposal to "extend" the role of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia "towards a Human Rights Agency in order to develop human rights data collection and analysis" is an idea thought up "in the margin" of the December 2003 Summit (p5). Why is such an Agency needed? Surely it would be better to insist that Human Rights Commissions are mandatory in each of the 25 states - currently there are only a handful (eg: Ireland, Greece, Northern Ireland, Denmark and there is pressure for one in the UK). Member states have adopted the European Convention on Human Rights and a way of ensuring compliance is to have an independent Human Rights Commission in every country. Moreover, there is already the Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights which has produced two excellent and detailed annual reports. This new "Agency" will be costly, detract from the importance of racism and xenophobia, and add little of value if it is only to collect "human rights data".

The creation of a "Committee on Internal Security" is highly problematic. It is intended that this would be in advance of the proposed Standing Committee on operational cooperation on internal security set out in Article 261 of the yet to be ratified Constitution. What powers is this ad hoc Committed to have? What powers of scrutiny will national and European parliaments have? How can it include the Police Chiefs Task Force and SitCen (the EU's military Situation Centre) on internal and external intelligence and analysis - neither has a legal basis and no lines of scrutiny are laid down.

Comments on the programme

'data collection and analysis' on human rights (p5) is such an agency going to make an effective contribution to human rights protection? It should be focussing on drafting opinions and recommendations on the development and implementation of EU policies, particularly in the JHA area.

QMV/co-decision for 'all Title IV measures subject to the Nice Treaty' (p7). Title IV covers asylum and immigration. This presumably means the issues mentioned in the declaration to the Nice Treaty: illegal immigration and freedom to travel, plus external borders (once agreement is reached between Spain and the UK on Gibraltar, but this has not happened). This leaves regulation of legal migration, internal border crossing, asylum 'burden-sharing', and cross-border family law issues still subject to unanimous voting and consultation of the EP.

The Nice Treaty (p7) also requires the highly restrictive rules on the ECJ to be "adapted" by 1 May 2004 - there is no reference to this.

The date for formal adoption of the asylum procedures directive has slipped again (p8). The idea of specific dates for review and adoption of second phase Asylum System proposals is new. So is the idea of joint processing within EU territory - but what does that mean? Camps just inside EU borders? The idea of joint processing outside has been around the last couple of years - it is the most objectionable aspect and there are huge doubts about whether it could be compliant with international standards. It should be noted that the idea is not confined to people intercepted in transit countries or even on the high seas, so could apply to people who are already present on EU territory as well.

The legal migration provisions (pp9-10) fail to mention some of the key principles of Tampere, such as fair treatment of third-country nationals comparable to that of nationals, and equal treatment of long-term residents with nationals as far as possible. The request for a 'policy' on admission by end 2005 is not a request for a legislative proposal (the Commission made on back in 2001 which the Council has ignored); Tampere had asked for rapid proposals from the Commission, which the Council would rapidly adopt.

Calling upon non-EU states to ratify the Geneva Convention is new (p11), and useful, but what will be the EU do if they do not? In light of current relations with Libya, it looks as if the EU is calling for this so as to make it easier for Member States to expel asylum-seekers to transit states.

The Commission's recent external solutions paper is endorsed here (p12), see: Statewatch analysis: EU divided on "safe countries of origin"

A link is made between expulsion policy and public order/security removals (p13). The idea of a special representative for readmission policy is new.

The first time an EU summit meeting has set a date for abolition of border checks with the 10 new member states (p14). The idea of a rapid reaction force is also taken from a Presidency Note. Are 'illegal immigrants' (who will often be asylum-seekers or refugees) going to be 'rescued' at sea only to be returned to the third countries the EU will be collaborating with?

'minimum standards for national identity cards' (p15)is new - the EU has no power to do this at present according to Art. 18(3) EC (Nice)

The date for a common application centres proposal and the idea of reviewing the CCI is new (p16). The references to visa reciprocity and to visa facilitation as a trade-off for readmission are new.

Establishing a "EU crisis management" centre to cover civil protection, public order and security is new (p22)

An internal security committee is to be established in advance of the Constitution (Article 261 of the Constitution, p23). This is to be comprised of the chairpersons of SCIFA (Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum), the Article 36 Committee (CATS), and representatives of the Commission, Europol, Eurojust, Police Chiefs Task Force and SitCen (the military Situation Centre). The Police Chiefs Task Force and SitCen (the military Situation Centre) have no legal status and their work is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny - nor for that matter will this new internal security Committee.

The point about a particular solution for JHA cases and the ECJ is new (p24). There is no move as required by the Treaty to adapt now the ECJ provisions applying to immigration and asylum (see point on p.7)

The deadlines for the EEW and disqualification/criminal records proposals are new (p26). There is no deadline for the criminal suspects' rights' proposal but at least they appear to endorse the principle of adopting it.

The para on substantive criminal law is content-free (p26)

Accession to the Hague Conference is a new point as far as EU summit conclusions are concerned (p29)

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