EU suspends negotiations with USA on judicial agreement

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In August last year Statewatch published a leaked first draft of the proposed agreement between the EU and the USA on judicial cooperation (see: Secret EU-US agreement being negotiated). The agreement covers extradition and mutual legal assistance and was on the agenda of the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA Council) in Brussels on 28 February with the expectation that it could be concluded in May or June.

However, a major sticking point emerged on the issue of extradition. The EU Framework Decision on the European arrest warrant, adopted on 13 June 2002, is due to come into operation across the EU in January 2004. This will means that, for a list of 32 offences, legal proceedings in the requested state will no longer be necessary - that is, to assess whether the grounds for extradition are valid and the evidence of an offence having been committed is justified.

With the negotiations well advanced the US side demanded that they should have the same rights as EU member states under the European arrest warrant - extradition on demand with no legal appeal. Even for the Council of the European Union (the 15 governments) this was a demand too far - the USA is not subject to EU law, the European Convention on Human Rights, nor EU data protection laws. Moreover, there have been a significant number of cases where the USA, post 11 September, has demanded the extradition of suspects or the provision of evidence which have been rejected by European courts for failing to meet basic standards.

The JHA Council on 28 February decided that:

"For the time being, the negotiation of the Agreement should be suspended"

The "spin" was that "some delegations have expressed concerns on specific points" and "the Council could conclude the Agreement in May or June, after having involved the parliaments in an appropriate manner":

- top of the "specific points" is the US demand to be considered as an EU member state on extradition

- the US demand to be treated the same as an EU member state for extraditions may also extend to other powers under the European arrest warrant, for example, powers to request the search and seizure of property as well arrest and extradition.

- the agreement is being negotiated under Articles 24 and 38 of the Treaty on European Union so national parliaments and the European parliament do not have to be consulted before the agreement is agreed and signed between the EU and USA. Some national parliaments will then be presented with the agreement as a fait accompli to be nodded through (it cannot be amended by them).

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