Never underestimate the importance of turf wars.
Maybe this could be appropriate advice to Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask, if the experienced Moderate party politician would need any before the informal meeting in Stockholm 15-17 July.
During the meeting, EU Ministers will lay the ground for a new five-year plan to replace the current Hague programme on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). However, there are different approaches to the new Stockholm programme.
The Commission communication avoids going into too much detail about new legislative proposals. One reason is that under the Lisbon Treaty, the right of initiative in the JHA area will rest more strongly with the Commission. Member States might want to prescribe clearly for the Commission what to propose, while people in the Breydel (sorry, should be Berlaymont, my thoughts were back in the old days) building would prefer more room to maneuver.
External relations are the subject of another turf war. The Future Group, composed mainly of Member States, devoted a specific section of its report to relations with third countries. One of the controversial issues is to establish by 2014 “a Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation in the field of freedom, security and justice with the United States”.
However, the Commission has chosen to integrate external relations aspects into the respective policy areas, whereas some member states would like to see a separate chapter (the UK has already provided a paper on external relations which will be the basis for discussions in Stockholm). This could seem like a question of editing, but it is really a fight over competences, what power the Commission (and the Court of Justice) will have for example over agreements with the US once the Lisbon treaty enters into force.
Everything in the Stockholm programme is not about turf wars, though.
“The last years of activity in the area have of many reasons been focused on repressive instruments.” said Beatrice Ask recently in a speech on the Stockholm programme. “Therefore we can see an increased need to balance these measures with initiatives securing the rule of law and the rights of the individual”, she continued.
It is easy to agree. The question is how this ambition will be reflected in the Stockholm Programme.
So far, there is a lack of detail when it comes to strengthening citizen rights. The Future Group is much clearer on the gathering of information for surveillance purposes (a sensitive issue for the government, after strong resistance to recent Swedish legislation on intelligence services). One should also not exclude that the six largest member states once again will make common proposals on fighting terrorism or other police co-operation issues.
Beatrice Ask will start negotiations on the recent Commission proposal on the right to interpretation and translation in legal proceedings, but this is not enough to balance the strong pressure on further restrictive measures in the new five years programme. As Sergio Carrera and others at CEPS have argued, one could question whether the EU should adopt any new legislation on criminal justice until there are higher standards for the rights of defence and of fair trial.
If the Swedish government has courage enough, Ask could propose concrete measures to implement citizens rights included in the Lisbon treaty, including a stronger role for the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
She should also seek agreement on the following proposal from the Commission: “Under an action plan setting out a thematic approach, the work on common minimum guarantees could be extended to protection of the presumption of innocence and to pre-trial detention (duration and revision of the grounds for detention).”
If Beatrice Ask succeeds with that, she is worth applause.
(I will return to the topic of migration in another post later on).