UK/EU: Speech by Charles Clarke, UK Home Secretary, to the European Parliament

7 September 2005

First I want to thank you for the opportunity of addressing the European Parliament this morning. I want to take this opportunity to set out the approach that my Government will follow in our conduct of the Presidency of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which will be occupied by myself and my colleague Baroness Ashton who is with me today.

I start from the proposition that the European Union has been a massive force for good.

35 years ago, when I was a student, we campaigned for democracy in this continent, to remove the fascist or military dictatorship which then existed in Greece, Spain and Portugal, the totalitarian dictatorship which then ruled much of Eastern and Central Europe. Those campaigns succeeded as, it is worth pointing out, did the campaigns in other parts of the world, for example Southern Africa and Latin America.

In fact from that time 11 of the 25 current EU Member States have emerged to democracy in full membership of the European Union. It is a magnificent achievement which we should continue to celebrate.

And of course the nature of our societies has changed dramatically over these years. It is true economically, socially and technologically. It has changed in the composition of our communities which vary across the Union.

But in all of this we are duty bound to promote a society which is based on the true respect of one individual for another, one culture for another, one faith for another, one race for another.

And we are duty bound to promote the view that democracy, and not violence, is the means of making change and governing ourselves.

And we have to defend our values of respect, tolerance, freedom, and democracy against any who wish to destroy or replace them with some other doctrine.

That is part of the history of the European Union but it must be central to the future of the European Union too.

And as we look to that future we have to acknowledge that, despite the fantastic record, many of our citizens remain highly sceptical about the European Union - to such an extent that in some countries the national referenda rejected the proposed new Constitution in a way which suggested more deep-seated concerns.

I believe that a deep reason for these doubts is that the European Union does not appear to give sufficient priority to offering practical solutions which make a difference to some of the issues of greatest concern.

I refer specifically to serious and organised crime, including drug-dealing and people trafficking; to illegal migration and false seeking of asylum; and to countering terrorism whatever its origins. These issues top the political agenda across Europe, and they are often the most potent in mobilising political activity, often in a reactionary and even dangerous way. They can even be used by poisonous demagogues to undermine the very democracy which has in some cases so recently been created.

It is not difficult to see why these threats motivate anger amongst our peoples. The threat from terrorism remains very real as we have tragically seen in London in July. In 2004 over 100,000 women were trafficked in the EU and over 8,000 people die each year from drug use as crime and misery is fuelled in every part of this continent. Illegal migration and a system of control which is too loose raise concerns in every city.

I therefore believe that the whole European Union, but in particular the Justice and Home Affairs Council, needs to give real priority to tackling these issues in a practical and systematic way. It is that conviction which will inform the UK Presidency.

And in so doing I suggest three principal approaches.

The first is that in our globalised world no single country can tackle these problems alone, even in their own country.

In a world with millions of international journeys and economic transactions every year ideas of ‘Splendid Isolation’ or rhetoric about ‘the White Cliffs of Dover’ can do nothing to address international criminality, terrorism or serious and organised crime or address patterns of international migration

The truth is that in each of these areas we will all, including within our own countries, achieve most by sharing experience, information and resources and by identifying, and then targeting, the threats systematically and consistently.

I make the apparently obvious point that these threats are best tackled internationally since there remain political parties, and other organs of opinion within the European Union, which believe that protection from these types of threat can best be secured by the construction of higher and higher fences between us, whilst the truth is the opposite – that our best chances of success lie in deeper and deeper co-operation.

The second principle that must underlie our approach is to strengthen the foundation of practical and pragmatic police and intelligence work

In each of these areas – organised crime, terrorism and immigration and asylum – we have already taken action at the EU level. For example we have agreed the European Arrest Warrant, common rules on the penalties and definitions for terrorism, people trafficking and other serious crimes. We have rules on police and judicial cooperation and have established Europol and Eurojust to support their work. We have also strengthened freedom to travel with the EU and established the European Borders Agency.

There is of course more that we can and are doing. We have agreed a comprehensive programme of action in the Hague Programme and the Counter-Terrorism Action Plan. These contain many sensible practical measures that will make a real difference to our citizens. If we want to demonstrate the real value of the EU we now need to work together to deliver on those commitments.

I would in particular like to highlight the need for practical EU support for intelligence-led operations and cross-border prosecutions, the development of joint teams to combat drug-dealing and people-trafficking, the sharing of information to facilitate joint work and the development of a European Criminal Intelligence Model.

In the field of migration and asylum, I hope that in this Presidency we will succeed in securing significant EU re-admission agreements with certain countries and develop pilot Regional Protection Programmes.

And in the field of civil justice we will focus on the proposal to facilitate small claims and establishment of a single European Order of payment and other measures.

These are all important practical steps which I hope will command widespread support in this Parliament.

But it is the third principle which I believe poses the greatest challenge in its modern application. That principle is that we need to use intelligence effectively and intelligently to target, track down, identify and convict the criminals who through terrorist violence and committing serious and organised crime threaten the security and strength of our society.

Indeed I go further: it is only through the effective and intelligent use of intelligence that in our modern world we can contest the criminality which attacks us. Of course criminals and terrorists use modern technology: the internet and mobile communications to plan and carry out their activities. We can only effectively contest them if we know what they are communicating. Without that knowledge we are fighting them with both hands tied behind our backs. And of course the criminals know that and actively and consciously organise themselves to take advantage of our weaknesses.

It may seem obvious to state in this way that we need to collect and use intelligence against the threats that we face. But this European Parliament, as well as national Parliaments throughout Europe, needs to face up to the fact that the legal framework within which we currently operate makes the collection and use of this intelligence very difficult and in some cases impossible.

The rules that currently govern our law-enforcement bodies seriously inhibit their ability to protect us against criminals. Information is the life-blood of law-enforcement operations and enables our police and agencies to prevent crimes with the minimum of impact on our daily lives. To tackle organised crime and to stop terrorist groups before they carry out activities they need a clear picture of who the criminals are, what they are doing, where they are and how they communicate with each other. Often that picture is pieced together after the fact. But if we are to be effective in dismantling organised crime groups we must analyse intelligence and information so that we can target our efforts on the most dangerous criminals. However, that need is not always reflected in the rules that we apply to our police.

This is not a sterile debate about principles but about practical measures to contest criminality and out opponents.

That is why the UK Presidency, following the proposals set out in the Hague programme, has placed on the agenda proposals on the retention of telecommunications data, establishing a second generation of the Schengen Information System and putting in place a new Visa Information System.

That is why we argue that internationally consistent and coherent biometric data should be an automatic part of our visas, passports and identity cards where we have them – and would even suggest driving licences as well.

That is why we will work strongly to agree with our international partners including the United States the best measures for consistent international use of passenger data.

These are all important and difficult measures. They can only be achieved through international agreements, particularly in the European Union. They all require hard-headed discussions and practical agreement.

This Presidency accepts that in considering proposals in these areas it is incumbent upon the advocates of change, such as the British Government, to make the case that measures of this kind do have the practical advantages against criminality that I believe that they do. That is why I am publishing today, as I promised the LIBE Committee in July in Brussels that I would, an explanation of the cases for some of these measures, in particular those relating to retention of telecommunications data, I hope that the Parliament will look closely at the case that we put forward. My colleagues on the JHA Council will be considering these issues carefully at the informal JHA Council in Newcastle later this week.

But I believe that the central point for us to remember is that as we make our considerations we should not forget that we now possess many hard-fought rights such as the right to privacy, the right to property, the right to free speech and the right to life. Those rights are actively threatened by criminals and terrorists. We have a duty and responsibility to help protect them for our citizens through practical measures. As we consider how best to do this there will always and inevitably be a balance in rights. What matters in each case is that the steps are proportionate and that protections against abuse are effective. I believe that our proposals offer that.

Let me just cite the example of retention of telecommunications data. This is proving invaluable in the current investigations into the London attacks and in many cases in the UK it has proved essential to solving crimes often months after they were committed.

Communications service providers already retain much information for business purposes. But data protection obligations in some countries pressure them to erase data that has no business purpose. That means that catching a murderer or stopping a terrorist attack may depend on which mobile telephone company a victim, suspect or witness uses or has used or which EU country they were in.

Some argue that to require telecoms companies to retain data they use for billing purposes is an intrusion in privacy. Or that it imposes undue costs on business. In the UK we have successfully established a system in partnership with a major service provider to retain essential data for up to twelve months for the cost of €1.2m. Compared to the average costs for forensic work on a single murder case of over €0.5m that is an acceptable cost to bear.

Others have argued that we are asking for too much data. That there should not be a requirement to retain say unanswered calls. However in many cases this is data that is collected by the companies for their own purposes. All that we are asking is that it be retained and made available to law-enforcement under national law.

There is perhaps a more general concern that the proposal is an unnecessary invasion into privacy or that it is disproportionate. I do not believe that it is because in many cases, some of which I have set out in the document I am circulating, the victim’s right to justice was only achieved through the retention of telecommunications data.

Similarly with the Schengen Information System. The next generation enables our law-enforcement agencies to exchange information about individuals wanted for arrest or to be refused entry to the EU as well as information on lost and stolen documents or other objects. This is a critical tool for ensuring our collective security and for guaranteeing our rights. Equally without a new system in place the New Member States will not be able to lift their internal borders with other Schengen States.

The Council and European Parliament will have to work together over the coming months to agree on the legal framework for the system. We will need to do this quickly so that that system can be put in place by early 2007. We all need to be sure that we are striking the right balance between our collective security and our fundamental rights.

In so doing, we need to be sure that we have thoroughly explored the question of whether SIS II should just be a control system or whether it can be used more effectively as a tool for law enforcement investigators. We need to be sure that we do not impose unnecessary restrictions on our law enforcement agencies on the use of data, including data collected for use principally at the borders, which they could use to combat serious crime and terrorism. In making these judgements we need to reflect in each case on the balance between the civil liberty being effected and the increased security being achieved to ensure any changes we make to the status quo are proportionate and reasonable.

There is also the case of the Visa Information System. As travel becomes easier and more frequent we need to ensure that those with a legitimate right to travel can do so while those who seek to exploit our freedoms are deterred.

Increasingly people use multiple identities to hide their movements. Biometrics are the most effective way to ensure that we can prove someone's identity. A comprehensive database of visa applications with biometrics matched to each applicant will mean that the genuine traveller is able to easily prove their identity and travel more freely. Governments will have a clear idea of who is entering the EU with the reassurance that they have the right to do so. The use of biometrics also means that if they destroy their documents or are found overstaying we are able to identify who they are and where they come from.

The Council and European Parliament will need to work closely together over the coming months to agree and adopt the Visa Information System regulation. The Council aims to have the system up and running in consulates from the beginning of 2006. Given the substantial lead in time to equip and train posts there is real urgency to adopt this regulation as soon as possible.

Each of these examples is a practical measure that can enhance security across the EU and demonstrate the practical benefits of working together. In each case they will enhance the sharing of information. They will not lead to the mass surveillance of our citizens and unnecessary invasion of their right to privacy.

But I understand concerns that data may be misused or abused or that some people will be wrongly identified. That is why we need to ensure that in each case there is a clear legal basis for the exchange of information and that there are appropriate safeguards.

Of course the proposals that I have set out are an enormous agenda for us and in our Presidency, we will do our best to promote this agenda.

However, on behalf of the UK Government I also want to say that we believe that it is necessary to look very carefully at the way in which the jurisprudence around application of the European Convention on Human Rights is developing. This Convention, established over 50 years ago in a quite different international climate, has led to great advances in human rights across the continent. Its achievements must be fostered and developed and not undermined.

But I believe that in developing these human rights it really is necessary to balance very important rights for individuals against the collective right for security against those who attack us through terrorist violence.

Our strengthening of human rights needs to acknowledge a truth which we should all accept, that the right to be protected from torture and ill-treatment must be considered side by side with the right to be protected from the death and destruction caused by indiscriminate terrorism, sometimes caused, instigated or fomented by nationals from countries outside the EU.

This is a difficult balance to get right and it requires us all as politicians to ask where our citizens – who elected all of us here– would expect us to draw the line.

I believe that they expect from us not only the protection of individual rights but also the protection of democratic values such as safety and security under the law.

The view of my Government is that this balance is not right for the circumstances which we now face – circumstances very different from those faced by the founding fathers of the European Convention on Human Rights - and that it needs to be closely examined in that context.

I intend to discuss with colleagues in the JHA Council how we might best address these issues in a manner consistent with our international obligations.

But I do believe most strongly that the peoples of this continent want to be assured that the legislative regime which defends human rights must be used to defend the rights of all our citizens in a balanced and considered way and that it is our duty to discuss this openly.

In conclusion, I believe that “no” votes against the Constitution should be taken as a wake up call to those who believe and support the value of the European project to focus on what matters. The right to safety and security is a fundamental concern for our citizens. Here we can show that Europe can and does deliver real benefits. We in the EU have a responsibility to rise to that challenge. This not an area where we can fail them.

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