European Parliament and the Third Pillar - Round II
"National security concerns, albeit legitimate, must not compromise the principles on which the (European) Union is founded, including democracy, equality and human rights."
So says the European Parliament which passed a resolution
on 'progress in implementing an area of freedom, security and justice'. It was actually passed on 27 March but a friend forwarded me the link today. The EP has called for an end to the 3rd Pillar and the introduction of qualified majority voting in the JHA Council. I'll be checking out the precise status of this opinion, but as far as I know, it is part of the EP's formal reporting requirement on 3rd Pillar issues and doesn't refer to any new proposals or developments. Nonetheless, it sets out the EP's stall vis a vis the Convention discussions, and is generally good to see.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have two great interests in life these days; traffic data retention and the undemocratic nature of the European Third Pillar. This EP opinion is a round-up of similar frustrations;
- 9/11 fall-out has caused a huge increase in activity on justice and home affairs at the EU level,
- the EP's role in decision-making on justice and home affairs is limited to rubber-stamping and provides no real democratic accountability,
- member states are using the JHA Council to advance domestic agendas and do policy-laundering,
On 3rd Pillar decision-making in general, Parliament said; "The lack of public accessibility, together with a lack of democratic control over Council,is leading to an unacceptable restriction of the principle of democracy. This calls into question the legal legitimacy of Council measures with a bearing on constitutional law."
An interesting point. Not being a lawyer myself, constitutional or otherwise, I'd love to hear more about this question and whether constitutional challenges might be brought to bear on the applicability of decisions made by the JHA Council.
Parliament also says changes in criminal justice policy are not being subjected to the relevant European legal instruments protecting human rights:
- proper safeguards of individual rights (under Article 13 of the EC Treaty) must temper criminal justice co-operation, especially on the European Arrest Warrant,
- a framework decision on procedural safeguards is needed for suspects and defendants in criminal proceedings.
- a 'EuroRights' body of independent defence practitioners in criminal law should be set up.
- there should be full democratic scrutiny of Europol, so it is fully accountable to the EP in partnership with national parliaments and subject to judicial control of the European Court of Justice.
The EP also warned the Council and Member States of the danger of "an overwhelming obsession with illegal entrants."
And, my favourite, the EP stated categorically that:
"it is unjustified to grant sweeping data retention powers through a blanket EU instrument. The collection and transfer of personal data in all measures relating to judicial and police cooperation must be carried out according to sound data protection rules." This is a shot across the bows at the Commission's Proposal That Has No Name - a harmonising measure on data retention which is much rumoured but has yet to see the light of day. They won't even say what kind of legal instrument it is.
Of course, some of the EP's criticism of the JHA Council must be taken with a few chunks of salt. Like all other EU institutions, the EP is manouevring to get a bigger slice of the decision-making pie in the current negotiations on constitutional reform. There are plenty of criticisms that can legitimately be made of the EP's own processes and accountability, but it is still a better bet than the closed Ministers' Club that currently decides on EU policy in police and judicial co-operation.
Now let's hope the EP can follow up this opinion with some useful actions.
I've just been told this EP opinion isn't part of any ongoing work programme and so is a relatively spontaneous expression of the EP's views on the 3rd Pillar.