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JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS: COMMISSION TAKES STOCK AND STARTS SETTING FUTURE PRIORITIES.

The Commission intends to present the Communication to the JHA Council on June 8 and to the European Council on June 17/18. The draft says that "in spite of the difficulties and some delays, it would have been difficult to imagine five years ago that such a nascent policy would achieve such a degree of realisation". But it adds that unless the European Parliament is made full co-legislator on JHA policies, notably for police and judicial co-operation on criminal matters, the EU risks being impotent. It favours an immediate switch to co-decision for all border control, visa, asylum and immigration policies - a move that Article 67 of the EC Treaty allows to happen at any time by means of a Council Decision. Currently, only asylum policy and certain aspects of visa policy fall under the co-decision procedure. The Commission will unveil another Communication in July on the financial aspects of its JHA plans. Following consultations with the public, the Council and the Parliament, it intends to adopt a programme for the future in the second half of 2004.

Future plans.

The Commission wants the future EU Constitution to abolish the Treaties' pillar structure, whereby anything touching criminal matters is dealt with using different instruments and decision-making procedures than most of the remainder of JHA. It wants to create "a true European common asylum policy". The legislative package recently finalised by the Council is supposed to install minimum standards for asylum systems but does not actually harmonise asylum procedures. The Commission also wants refugees and people under subsidiary protection to have the same status, something the legislative package does not provide for. It says that many EU citizens have complained about losing the right the vote in national elections when they leave their home country, without being compensated by gaining this right in the EU Member State they move to. The EU Treaty only guarantees you the right to vote in the local and European elections in your Member State of residence. The Commission calls for "a reflection, both at European and national level" on this issue.

In the area of border controls, one focus will be "creating the conditions permitting the abolition of controls at internal borders of the new Member States". The latter would like to become part of the Schengen zone but their border control systems are not yet deemed strong enough for this and controls are likely to remain until at least 2008. Another priority for the Commission is promoting more financial burden-sharing between the Member States, notably on border controls, asylum and visas. As regards legal immigration, it says that Member States' right to set their own quotas on the number of work permits they issue "should be guaranteed". There has been talk of agreeing EU-wide quotas but the Commission seems to be treading cautiously here.

As for the Member States' legal systems, the Commission says "total harmonisation is neither proportionate nor appropriate". But it does want to make judicial decisions handed down in one Member State enforced "rapidly, efficiently and effectively" EU-wide. It plans to propose a European Judicial Record soon - a register of all criminal convictions and disqualifications decisions. Member States could consult the register to ensure a person is not tried for the same act twice (ne bis in idem) or to enable them impose a stiffer penalty if they see the person already has a conviction for a similar offence. An initiative is in the pipeline to set common standards on the admissibility of evidence. The EU executive also wants to create "from Eurojust" a European Public Prosecutor, whose mandate would be prosecuting fraud against the EU Budget. And it wants to make Europol a genuine EU agency, funded from the Community Budget, instead of operating as an inter-governmental body as it does at present.

Inventory of achievements.

The Communication lists the raft of measures agreed, instruments adopted, and agencies created since 1999. The following are the main ones:

* Action Plans on illegal immigration, control of external borders and return policy

* Border Control Agency, due to be operational in January 2005

* Integration of biometrics in visas and residence permits

* Family Reunion Directive

* Status of long-term immigrants Directive

* Asylum standards package: Three Directives and one Regulation

* European Refugee Fund: Euro 216 million for 2000-2004

* AENEAS: Euro 250 million migration aid to third countries programme for 2004-2008

* Legal Aid Directive

* Crime Victims Compensation Directive

* Brussels I Regulation on mutual recognition of civil and commercial judgements

* Brussels II Regulation on mutual recognition of parental responsibility decisions

* Harmonisation of criminal penalties for terrorism, drug-trafficking, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children

* European Arrest Warrant

* Eurojust Unit of Prosecutors created

* EU-USA Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement

* Europol: Boosting of powers and mandate

* European Police College (CEPOL) created

* Money-laundering Directive revamped

* Right of Residence for EU citizens and their family members Directive

* Fundamental Rights Agency to be created in 2005

* Nice Treaty provision allowing EU to act against a Member State that is at risk of breaching fundamental rights

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* Europe Information is about to publish its own comprehensive and exclusive review of JHA achievements since 1999. This will describe the legal framework that EU legislators have operated in for the past five years and will chart the major events of the period that helped shape policy. It will explain how the key legislative instruments were adopted and assess how well the EU has met the commitments laid out in the Amsterdam Treaty. The review will be accompanied by an in-depth examination of EU asylum policy, based on a series of interviews with experts working in the field, and which focuses on the impact the new legislation will have on the ground.

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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jun 2, 2004
Words:945
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