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JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS : EP WARY OF OVER-EXTENDING EU'S POWERS IN CRIMINAL LAW.

A key EU Court of Justice ruling enhancing the European Community's powers on criminal law has got a nuanced response from the European Parliament. A Resolution adopted by 523 votes to 78 on 14 June argues for a narrow interpretation of the September 2005 judgment. The MEPs take a more conservative stance than the European Commission, which sees the ruling as a chance to include criminal sanctions in a raft of EC legislation.

LANDMARK CASE

The Parliament was not obliged to give its opinion on the ruling (Case C-176/03). However, given its big implications for the powers of the key EU institutions, it has chosen to do so. The ECJ annulled a Framework Decision on protecting the environment because it was framed within the EU's third pillar' (fight against crime), not the first pillar' (European Community, internal market). The Court said certain acts could be made criminal offences through EC law but the level of penal sanction could only be laid down in third pillar legislation.

MEPs broadly welcomed the ruling but urged the Commission not to automatically extend it to other policy sectors. The ruling 'should be considered with caution and applied on a case-by-case basis', they said. Moreover, the EC 'as a general principle' does not have competence on criminal matters or criminal procedural law, they added. If criminal sanctions are laid down in EU legislation, they should leave 'a certain flexibility to avoid penal dumping''. MEPs also called on the Council of Ministers to apply Article 42 of the EU Treaty, which would make Parliament co-legislator on third pillar legislation (currently they are only consulted).

CONSERVATIVE READING PREVAILS

While the final Resolution was backed by the main political groups, it had been preceded by intense discussions. The Socialists would have preferred a broader interpretation of the ruling, in line with the Commission's November 2005 Communication, in which the EU executiveasaid that it was considering transforming a raft of third pillar legislation into EC law. However, Parliament ultimately took a more conservative stance, as advocated by the centre-right EPP-ED.

Pillar warfare

The issue of the EC's crime-busting powers affects many dossiers. For example, after a divisive debate, EU rules on retaining telecom data for police use were adopted under the first pillar (Directive 2006/24/EC) but Ireland has challenged this before the ECJ. The Court on 30 May annulled a 2004 EU-US agreement on transferring air passengers' personal data because it was adopted under the first, not the third pillar. The draft EU Constitution scrapped the EU's pillar structure but given the impasse over its ratification, such pillar battles' can be expected to continue.

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Title Annotation:european parliament
Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jun 15, 2006
Words:438
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