Distinguished Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here among you today. 15 years ago, the Heads of State of then 15 EU member countries gathered in this very city. The Finnish Prime Minister at the time, Mr Paavo Lipponen, chaired the meeting of the European Council that took a decision that would profoundly change the European Union and affect us all. A decision was taken to create a Union of freedom, security and justice in the EU.
Since then, all my European colleagues have come to know the City of Tampere. Since then we have created a chain of events under the headings of Tampere-the Hague-and the Stockholm programmes.
What better time than now and what better place to reflect on some of the achievements made since the Tampere European Council?
From its very beginning, European integration has been firmly rooted in a shared commitment to human rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law. This was the first building block of the Tampere Milestones. And look at what we have achieved in 15 years!
Today, the Charter of Fundamental Rights confirms the commitment of the EU to uphold these values. Initially a solemn proclamation, the Charter is now legally binding on the EU institutions and on national governments. Citizens are increasingly aware of their rights. The Court of Justice increasingly applies the Charter in its decisions, and national judges are more and more aware of the Charter's impact. The Commission and Council have guidelines in place to ensure the compatibility of legislative proposals with EU fundamental rights. Today, one can say that the Charter is truly “alive".
The rule of law is the backbone of any modern constitutional democracy and a prerequisite for the protection of all fundamental values listed in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. Its national implementation is also one of the key elements of mutual trust among EU Member States. It is therefore vital to ensure an effective and timely response to threats to the rule of law.
EU Fundamental Rights Agency has voiced its concern over the fundamental rights impact of the economic crises and high unemployment rates that may fuel racism, xenophobia and related intolerance in the EU. Now in these economically challenging times we must be careful not to take steps backward in our efforts to combat these developments. Inaction is not an option if we are to stay true to our values.
In March this year, the Commission proposed a new EU framework to strengthen the rule of law. The Finnish Government warmly welcomes the Commission proposal. The early warning tool established by it enables the Commission to enter into a dialogue with the Member State concerned before the situation escalates. Prevention is better than cure, as they say.
Alongside new initiatives, we must make full use of existing tools to protect our values. The EU has in place an agency capable of providing the EU institutions with valuable advice on fundamental rights issues. I am of course referring to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. The mandate of the Fundamental Rights Agency must be strengthened in order to use its high-quality expertise to its full potential.
European citizens deserve the same level of protection for acts of the EU as they currently enjoy for acts of the member states. That is why a swift accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights – as required by the Lisbon Treaty – is necessary.
Another topical fundamental rights issue is the right to data protection. Recent events such as the NSA scandal have increased citizens’ concern over their privacy. We now have more reason than ever to finalize the EU data protection reform.
I think that the common values recognized in the Tampere conclusions are as relevant today as they were 15 years ago.
They are the building blocks of our shared commitment to freedom.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The enjoyment of freedom requires a genuine area of justice. This was another key message of the Tampere Milestones.
What, then, is a genuine area of justice?
To me, a genuine area of justice is one where people feel comfortable approaching courts and authorities in any Member State. It is one where criminals cannot exploit differences in the judicial systems of Member States. It is one where judgments and decisions from all Member States are respected and enforced. In a genuine European area of justice, individuals should not be prevented or discouraged from exercising their rights.
Mutual recognition was asserted to be the cornerstone of judicial cooperation in the Tampere conclusions. This has proven to be a wise decision.
Mutual recognition means that a judicial decision made in one EU country is recognized and enforced throughout the EU. This enables effective cooperation while at the same time being respectful of the different solutions adopted in Member States’ legal systems.
Over the years, several instruments have been adopted to implement the principle of mutual recognition. In the area of criminal law, we have for example the framework decisions on the European Arrest Warrant and on the mutual recognition of confiscation orders as well as on transfer of prisoners. In the area of civil law, we have instruments such as the Brussels I Regulation and the European Enforcement Order.
Of these, the European Arrest Warrant is sometimes referred to as a success story. Despite the hurried adoption of the Framework Decision [in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks], the European Arrest Warrant has functioned reasonably well for over 10 years already.
In 2002, as requested by the Tampere European Council, Eurojust was established to improve judicial cooperation in the fight against serious, cross-border crime. It does this by facilitating the execution of requests for cooperation and mutual recognition. Over the years, Eurojust has helped to build mutual trust and to bridge gaps between the wide variety of legal systems and traditions in the EU.
In July 2013, the Commission presented a proposal to establish a European Public Prosecutor's Office. It would be an independent Union body with the authority to investigate and prosecute EU fraud and other crimes affecting the Union's financial interests. While we must make every effort to combat these serious crimes, the establishment of a new European Public Prosecutor's Office should only be considered if it brings added value. This requires that as many Member States as possible should be able to join the new office. The more Member States join the EPPO, the more added value it brings and the more effectively it can operate within the genuine area of justice.
The requirement of added value also applies to EU activities more generally: we should focus our resources on issues where EU cooperation brings true added value and EU initiatives should always be based on concrete analysis of difficulties encountered in cross-border interactions. To give you an example in the area of criminal law: in my opinion, it is more important to catch criminals than harmonize sanctions. This can best be achieved through effective cooperation between authorities, which in turn can be achieved through mutual recognition. To give you another example: I am not convinced that the EU needs a common European sales law. Instead, we should more carefully analyze the concrete obstacles standing in the way of the digital single market.
In the future, it is vital to ensure the high quality and effective implementation of mutual recognition instruments. Some Member States – I am sorry to say this – display a worrying lack of commitment to the implementation process. We need to get all Member States on board. Our goal should be to turn the whole system of mutual recognition into a success story.
I am confident that this is the direction we are heading, now that the end of the transition period attached to the Lisbon Treaty is at hand.
Mutual recognition goes hand in hand with mutual trust.
In order for a system based on mutual recognition to function, Member States must trust each other. But even more importantly, our citizens must be able to trust not only our own justice system, but also the protection offered by other Member States’ legal systems. Rights and protection must follow, when our citizens cross borders.
Here, too, progress has been made.
We have common minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. We also have directives guaranteeing interpretation and translation services, right to information and access to a lawyer for persons suspected or accused of having committed a crime. Work is ongoing on several proposals to further improve procedural rights.
In short, we have come a long way towards a genuine European area of justice.
In the future, we must work to further strengthen mutual trust. A key priority is to complete the Roadmap on Procedural Rights.
By strengthening mutual trust, we can build bridges between Member States.
By building bridges between Member States, we can create a genuine European area of justice and strengthen citizens´ trust in the EU.
The path we started on 15 years ago has not always been smooth to travel: we have certainly had our fair share of challenges.
Take for example the requirement of unanimity, which dominated Council decision-making until 2009. Tough negotiations often led to compromise solutions where legislative proposals were split up or watered down to get everyone on board. We may now be masters of compromising, but we also have a fragmented and at times incoherent body of legislation as a result.
On the other hand, the requirement of unanimity taught us to know and respect each other. European integration cannot be driven by force. Member States as well as the citizens must be kept on board.
Speaking of pitfalls, there is also the issue of special arrangements between the EU and some of the Member States. The area of freedom, security and justice forms an inseparable whole and should be developed uniformly. Opt-out arrangements weaken this uniformity.
However, we have also managed to overcome many difficulties and moved forward. The past five years have shown that the transition to the so called co-decision-making has been smooth, thanks to good cooperation with the European Parliament. As for the Member States, emergency brakes of the Lisbon Treaty have not been used.
In 15 years we have made moving between Member States faster, cheaper, and less bureaucratic. EU instruments on mutual recognition and choice of law have made this possible. I hope that in the years to come we will be able to focus more on the quality of legislation. From a practitioner’s point of view, the ideal would be to have one coherent European instrument applicable to cross-border judicial procedures.
I began my speech with a reference to the common European values.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares our commitment to these values. Not everyone strives for peace and security.
This is the reality we were faced with a mere two years after the adoption of the Tampere programme. One September day in 2001, with collapsing twin towers, changed everything. We no longer felt safe. The attacks in Madrid [in 2004] and London [in 2005] intensified the feeling: Europe was not safe from terrorists.
The subsequent multiannual programs were drafted under the growing threat of terrorism. Anti-terrorist measures were one of the main priorities of the Hague programme, while the Stockholm programme emphasized the need to respect fundamental rights in the fight against terrorism.
The shadow of terrorism still looms over us. We must constantly reassess the situation and our response to it. More importantly, we must do this together and united in the EU. This is exactly where more, not less, European cooperation is needed.
This issue will also be discussed at the next Justice and Home Affairs council meeting in December.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have certainly accomplished a lot over the past 15 years.
We have succeeded in something that not too many decades ago would have been called impossible.
But while we have good reason to look back and be proud of our past achievements, we must also look to the future.
In June this year, the European Council adopted new strategic guidelines, which will guide our work over the next five years. The new guidelines emphasize the effective implementation in all Member States of the vast body of legislation adopted over the past years.
This is where we must concentrate our efforts now: finishing what was started in Tampere. We have the tools, now let us put them to good use!
Finally, I wish to extend my sincerest thanks to the Commission for hosting this event and for the opportunity to speak to you all on this occasion. I would also like to thank my dear friend Commissioner Malmström, for being here with us today. I wish you all a successful conference!
Thank you very much for your attention.