Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-21)



  20. I think the country to which you were referring has withdrawn their proposals. Could I then, finally, ask about resources because it is going to take a lot of money to manage immigration and external borders. In Thessaloniki resources of €140 million were proposed. Is it still the intention that the amount will be available in the two years between 2004 and 2006?
  (Mr Handley) The

140 million to which you refer covers three components. One is the VIS, the Visa Information System; the second is the amount of burden sharing on external borders, which we discussed earlier; the third element is a return programme. For the first two of these, the financial proposals have already been presented by the Commission. It is its intention to come forward shortly with a proposal for a financial instrument in the area of returns. Clearly, until the end of 2006, we are working within the context of the existing financial perspective, Agenda 2000. I think it would be no secret if we were to tell you that, in preparing the next financial perspective, the whole area of justice and home affairs is one that is coming under very close scrutiny because it is seen as an area of growth in the expectations of citizens and as to what the European Union needs to provide.


  21. We have time for just one of our two questions on law and institutions. I would like to take the second of those two questions, if I may. Could you give us an idea of what are the grounds that some Member States have for opposing any form of EU action in the field of criminal procedure and defendants' rights? Given that opposition, which has been reported, and the fact that unanimity is currently required on third pillar matters, are you optimistic that any meaningful standards can be established in this field?
  (Mr Handley) We are talking here about the follow-up to the Commission's Green Paper on Procedural Safeguards for Suspects who are defendants in criminal proceedings. The response to that Green Paper was in fact broadly positive. The Commission has already had the intention of coming forward with a framework decision this year. This is to be seen in the context of continuing work on the mutual recognition programme. The essential idea is that this is one of the components that helps to protect the fundamental rights of the accused. It is a counterpart to some of the more strong measures, like European arrest warrants, and so there is a balancing act. In our dialogue with the European Parliament this year, they were very strong on the idea that we had to have more on protection of rights to balance what we were saying in terms of "repressive measures". Your question was specifically about the views of Member States, and on that the answer is that Member States' reactions are mixed. Some are in favour of all strands of this proposal; some are in favour of only some; and others are not in favour of any of the strands of this proposal. Among the reasons that can be given are whether the proposals from the Commission for Community legislation will duplicate the European Court of Human Rights. That is one argument where I think the Commission's view is that it would actually help to apply what the European Court of Human Rights has put on the table, but which is not often known by practitioners in the legal environment. The other reason could be whether there is a sufficient legal base for the Commission to take action in this area. Of course, the third area is whether there is going to be a lowering of standards by setting a minimum standard of behaviour for procedures throughout the European Union. On that, which I think is perhaps the core of the issue, the Commission's point of view is that we do wish to establish minimum standards, so that no-one falls beneath that level, and so it is protection for individuals, but nothing prevents Member States that wish to do so to apply higher standards. In the perspective of 10 new Member States coming into the Community next year, it becomes even more important to have a certain degree of level playing field across the 25 Member States as far as the criminal law is concerned. The Commission does have the intention to present this framework for decision shortly. Then of course it will be in the hands of the Council to decide whether the proposal is reasonable and how to translate it into terms of more specific measures.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I think I must draw the proceedings to a close at this stage. I want to thank you both very much indeed for answering our questions so frankly, and so fully. I am sorry we could not have devoted more time; we could have gone on for quite a lot longer yet, but I am afraid we do have a time problem this morning. We will of course be sending you the transcript for you to check through.

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