Combating crime involves strengthening dialogue and action between the criminal justice authorities of EU countries.
For a long time, the EU has tried to build the European criminal justice area with one hand tied behind its back:
- the unanimity rule, which required agreement of all EU governments for decision-making, often led to a 'lowest common denominator' approach;
- the Commission did not have enforcement powers; and
- parliaments and courts had little to say.
Progress in this field has therefore been limited, and the focus has been more on security issues.
With the Lisbon Treaty in force, a rebalancing between security and justice will finally be possible.
Building mutual trust
Introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, judicial cooperation in criminal matters was established under the 'third pillar'. With the formal scrapping of the pillar division, the Lisbon Treaty corrects the deficiencies of the former system. Ultimately, it will help to make a common European area of justice where national law enforcers and judiciaries can trust and rely on each other a reality.
This will increase citizens' confidence in the fairness of proceedings, particularly in the protection of their rights when they are in a court in another country, and if they fall victim to a crime.
Increasing mutual trust is a precondition for the mutual recognition between EU countries of each other's judicial decisions. To increase this trust, common minimum standards must be set as regards the right to a fair trial and the rights of crime victims.
In Stockholm in 2009, the European Council adopted the "Stockholm Programme: An open and secure system serving and protecting citizens".
To meet future challenges and further strengthen the area of justice, the Commission has adopted an ambitious action plan to implement the Stockholm programme. It sets out the EU's priorities in this field for the period 2010-14.
Planned improvements in the field of criminal justice include: