Select Committee on European Union Tenth Report

The Hague Programme: a five year agenda for EU justice and home affairs

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

1.  The Tampere European Council, held under Finland's EU Presidency in 1999, produced a series of detailed Conclusions intended to serve as a blueprint for the development of the European Union as an "area of freedom, security and justice" (AFSJ). The Conclusions set out a work programme in Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) for the five years up to the end of 2004. Discussions took place over the second half of 2004 on how to follow up the Tampere Programme. In June the Commission published a Communication setting out its views on the future of EU action in JHA. This was followed by a recommendation by the European Parliament and discussions in the autumn Justice and Home Affairs Councils. These discussions culminated in the adoption, by the European Council of 4-5 November 2004, of a new five-year Programme for EU action in Justice and Home Affairs, the so-called Hague Programme.

2.  The Committee had the opportunity to examine the Commission Communication last September and asked for clarification of the Government's position on a number of issues. The Government replied on 4 November, the very day of the European Council. However, the Government declined to deposit for scrutiny a draft copy of the Hague Programme (although it had already been in the public domain), a decision hardly consistent with the Government's statements on the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. After the adoption of the Hague Programme, the Government wrote to the Committee on 21 December and 21 January providing a copy of the Programme and outlining their views on the text.[1]

3.  As the Committee was unable to scrutinise the Programme before it was adopted by the European Council, Sub-Committees E (Law and Institutions) and F (Home Affairs) decided to undertake a joint ex post facto inquiry into it. They issued a call for evidence on 10 December 2004, which is reproduced in Appendix 2. At a joint meeting on 26 January 2005 the two Sub-Committees took evidence from Ms Caroline Flint MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, on the home affairs aspects of the Hague Programme; and on 9 February Sub-Committee E took oral evidence from Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, on the civil law aspects of the Programme and issues related to the proposed Fundamental Rights Agency. We also received written evidence from a number of organisations (a list of witnesses can be found in Appendix 3). We are grateful to all those who assisted our inquiry in this way.

4.  We regret that the Government saw fit to withhold from scrutiny the drafts of the Hague Programme prior to its adoption by the European Council. The Hague Programme constitutes a blueprint for long-term EU action in the sensitive area of Justice and Home Affairs. It is an important policy document that is likely to lead to measures having a direct impact on the daily life of EU residents and those wanting to enter the EU. It is unacceptable that Parliament was denied the opportunity to examine and comment on proposals of such importance until it was too late to influence their content. We understand that the Commission will, on the basis of the Hague Programme, produce a five year Action Plan on JHA towards the end of the Luxembourg Presidency this year. The Committee will have the opportunity to examine the Action Plan in detail before its adoption. We make our recommendations in this Report so that they can be taken into account in the negotiation and drafting of the Action Plan.

5.  In view of the important issues raised by the Hague Programme, we recommend this Report to the House as a basis for a general debate on Justice and Home Affairs issues.

1   Our correspondence with the Government can be found in Appendix 5. Back

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