Attacks in Paris
The terrorist attacks in Paris were an attack on our core values: respect for life, freedom and tolerance. We must stand up to protect these fundamental principles and values. We must fight for the freedom of expression. We must fight against racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia, hate speech and other forms of intolerance.
This morning in the College we had a constructive and encouraging debate. We agreed that the right balance has to be struck between freedom and security and that our response needs to be determined and measured, with effective use of the existing instruments and commitment to advance on pending files such as the data protection reform. And that we need to increase mutual trust amongst Member States.
Justice has a key role to play in the future Agenda for Security and I will work on closely with my colleagues VP Timmermans and Commissioner Avramopolous on it.
I see five key priorities:
First, we need to step up our action to prevent and combat anti-semitic hatred but also anti-muslim sentiments. We need to enforce the existing EU legislation combating racism and xenophobia and make sure that it is applicable on the ground. We have this possibility since 1 December 2014. Online hate speech is a worrying phenomenon and we need to take actions to address anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and other forms or incitement to hatred online.
Second, we need to find effective solutions at EU level to help the coordination of all law-enforcement actors who intervene in the fight against terrorism. I would like to give you here three practical examples.
First example, the European Arrest Warrant. It was thanks to the European Arrest Warrant that the French djihadist who had killed three persons at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last year was surrendered by the French judges to the Belgium judges in less than two weeks.
Second example, our judges but also our policemen use ECRIS - the European Criminal Records Information System- regularly. When trying to find out who were the two brothers who had killed the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, the French policemen were checking the criminal justice records of the suspects and used ECRIS, an EU instrument which gave them in a couple of minutes all the information needed. However, ECRIS has some limitations: in particular it does not cover third country nationals. We are ready to look into the possibility of making an amendment to the legal framework to extend ECRIS to the exchange of information of convictions of third country nationals.
Third example, Mutual Legal Assistance with third countries, either through agreements or exchange of liaison prosecutors. Our prosecutors obtain a lot of information for instance from the US through the existing EU-US Mutual Legal Assistance agreement. In addition to agreements that we have already with some countries, we need to promote the exchange of EUROJUST Liaison Magistrates posted in key countries, for instance in Turkey or Pakistan. And, to work more effectively, EUROJUST prosecutors should be able to be fully trained and to fully cooperate with EUROPOL (and be associated for instance to the Focal Point on Travellers).
Third, we need to reinforce the prevention of radicalisation, especially the radicalisation in detention facilities and also for the persons who have left prison and are still under probation. As you know the killer of the Jewish victims in the Kosher supermarket had continued to develop his radicalised ideas while being on probation and wearing an electronic bracelet. This is an area I want to work on with Member States and other stakeholders. And I am keen to be involved in the Radicalisation Network (RAN) to help at EU level Member States to deal with this severe issue.
Fourth, we need to make sure that suspicious transfer of money which can be a first signal that a terrorist attack is being prepared, is properly addressed thanks to the new Anti-Money laundering directive and the efficient exchange of information between Financial Investigation Units (FIUs).
Fifth, in all instruments that we will further develop in the future, such as the PNR Directive, and in our reflection to come or not with a Data Retention Directive, we must not forget our core values and fundamental rights as well as all our data protection safeguards that we have put in place and that we continue to fight for, for the benefit of all. In this context, let me also mention that our Data Protection reform includes a Directive on data protection rules for police and criminal justice authorities when they exchange data across the EU. This is needed more than ever, if we want to help intensify law enforcement between Member States. Robust data protection rules will foster more effective cooperation based on mutual trust. We need to strike the right balance.
Let me now turn to other topics on our common agenda.
We need to protect better the EU budget against fraud. We need to get EPPO being set up in 2016.
I welcome the draft interim report prepared by MEP Macovei which I will study carefully. My first reaction is that this draft emphasises, rightly, the main principles on which the European Parliament should insist for giving its consent, including the EPPO’s independence, the clarity of its competence and the efficiency of its structure. I will add to this two observations:
The draft Interim Report stresses the need to give the Permanent Chambers decision-making powers over the choice of jurisdiction, dismissals and transactions. These questions are important to develop a common EU prosecution policy on PIF crimes. In addition, I believe that another key decision, the deicision to prosecute (indict) or not, should also be reserved for the Permanent Chambers.
The draft Interim Report recalls the importance of protecting the rights of suspects in accordance with the Charter and the Union’s legal framework. This is essential for the EPPO’s legitimacy.
Anti-Fraud Directive (PIF)
The EPPO will be efficient only if it has a sufficient and clearly defined scope of action. I welcome the progress the co-legislators made in the trilogue on the Anti-fraud Directive.
We must finalise the negotiations during the Latvian Presidency. There is no time to waste. The Directive will have to be transposed in the Member States before the EPPO starts to operate in 2016.
We still need to find a compromise for two main issues: the inclusion of VAT in the scope of the directive and the question to which offences a higher level of sanctions and rules on time limitation will apply. We are ready to engage in reasonable compromises and are fully committed to working them out with the European Parliament.
Effective cooperation between law enforcement authorities is key to protect our citizens. But, as I said earlier, it is the Commission's duty to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and the rule of law which are the pillars of our democracies, such as the freedom of expression, are guaranteed. Any intrusion has to be necessary and proportionate.
Freedom of expression enshrines the right to hold opinions, as well as to receive and impart information and ideas freely. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that this freedom extends to information and ideas that may offend, shock or disturb others. This may include criticism of religion, ideology, beliefs and institutions.
While violence and threats are never an acceptable reaction to the exercise of freedom of expression and must be firmly stigmatised, sensitivities must be respected and should be expressed through a vigorous but peaceful dialogue of opinions under the protection of the freedom of expression.
Fight against intolerance
The Commission is determined to take all the necessary measures to avoid that actions by a minority of extremists are exploited to spread racism, xenophobia and intolerance in our societies.
We have already identified several legislative gaps in some Member States and will not hesitate to launch infringement proceedings whenever necessary.
You have seen that we have launched a first infringement proceeding as regards Member States' compliance with the Directive on Racial Equality.
Efficient enforcement together with flanking measures such as campaigns will be a strong answer to protect minorities and to support Roma integration.
This will also be at the heart of the LGBTI action plan on which I want to engage this year.
I also want to report on a new, constructive spirit in the Council I observed last December when we discussed the Antidiscrimination Directive for the first time after many years at the political level. Nobody expressed doubts about the objective, and it seems to me that the open issues can be tackled and we should be able to finalise the negotiations this year.
It is important that all 28 Member States participate in the adoption of this Directive. The protection of basic fundamental rights should be uniform throughout the Union.
EU Data Protection Reform package
This brings me to another key project we need to finish this year: the Data Protection Reform package. This reform remains as needed a ever both for the protection of fundamental rights and to untap the potential of the Digital Single Market.
The negotiations in the Council have entered their final stage. In the last six months key areas of the Regulation have been agreed upon by Ministers under the Greek and Italian Presidencies.
The Council is catching up with the European Parliament who has shown strong leadership on this file.
The Latvian Presidency and I have a common objective: we want to come to a general approach in June and start trilogues with you immediately thereafter.
I trust that the positive dynamic on the Regulation will also positively impact the Council discussions on the Directive.
As mentioned earlier, the recent events call for stronger cooperation of law enforcement authorities which will be easier on the basis of our new Data Protection Directive.
The Paris attack does not affect our position in the ongoing negotiations with the US on data exchanges: We stay on course!
Our discussions with the US to implement the 13 recommendations to improve the Safe Harbour are progressing. It is true that it is taking more time than anticipated but today, I would like to underline a significant development:
As you know, we have made it very clear to the US that the Safe Harbour will not be able to continue without sufficient guarantees on national security access. This is an entire package.
For the first time, we have recently registered concrete engagement from the US on this issue which is welcome. Access to data for national security purposes must be limited to what is necessary and proportionate. And we hope to be able to report soon on progress in this respect.
We will continue to stand firm on this file and my services will continue to debrief you on the details. My objective remains to finalise these discussions with the US in time for the EU-US Ministerial end May.
The negotiations of the data protection Umbrella agreement, as you know, are at a very advanced stage. The provisions already agreed significantly upgrade the level of protection of individuals they currently enjoy when data are transferred to the US. In particular, they go beyond the protections found in most existing bilateral agreements concluded by Member States with the US which, in general, do not contain detailed data protection safeguards.
Let me take this opportunity to re-state that the conclusion of the Agreement is conditional upon the fulfilment by the US of their commitments to extend the right to judicial redress to European citizens and residents.
I made this point very firmly in all my contacts with the US authorities. The conclusion of this agreement will facilitate law enforcement cooperation across the Atlantic in full respect of fundamental rights.
There are positive developments on judicial redress, where the US have presented draft legislation to be tabled in Congress, which would extend certain protections to non-US persons as provided to US citizens under the Privacy act. Though we will need to analyse the draft is more detail, we welcome this long-awaited step, which follows the commitment made by the outgoing US Attorney General Holder.
In order to resolve the outstanding issues and finalise the draft text of the agreement, I will engage with the incoming Attorney General as soon as she is confirmed.
I can confirm to you that we will provide you with the latest version of the negotiated text – as it stands – once a number of technical details have been finalised with the US by my services. We will continue to inform the European Parliament about the outcome of these negotiations in full transparency.
This tour d'horizon on key files shows the breath of our important cooperation which I want to intensify further. I see you as my strong partner for this agenda, and I am interested in finalising pending files and developing new ones in close cooperation with you. By doing so, we will protect citizens rights and the rule of law, open choices for them and increase mutual trust.