UK PRESIDENCY: ACHIEVEMENTS
Letter from Baroness Ashton of Upholland,
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional
Affairs to the Chairman
I am writing to report back to you on the achievements
of the UK Presidency of the Council of the EU in those areas of
the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) agenda in which this Department
Throughout the Presidency, our objective has
raise the profile of civil justice business within the European
JHA agenda; and
demonstrate the important role of this business in enabling citizens
to live, work, study, buy and sell and do business across European
borders with the same security and ease of access to justice as
We have at the same time been alert to the need
to ensure that action at European level is confined to those measures
which can add value to what can properly be achieved at national
levelie, confined to cross-border issues.
We have energetically taken forward the agenda
of civil business inherited from Luxembourg, with a total of 31
working group days dedicated to civil businessmore, we
believe, than any previous Presidency. We held two Presidency
events and shared with the Home Office responsibility for the
JHA Councils in Luxembourg and Brussels and the JHA Informal in
In Newcastle, we had a half-day in plenary session
on civil matters, during which we tackled the long-running argument
on the extent of the EU's power in terms of civil judicial co-operation
(essentially, whether EU measures were to relate purely to cross-border
cases or could cover purely domestic ones). The Committee is aware
of the difficulties this issue has caused. We have always disputed
the legal base for applying these measures to domestic cases and
we successfully put the argument finally to rest. European measures
are for cross-border cases only.
The resolution of this argument contributed
directly (1) to our achieving political agreement at the December
JHA Council on a European Order for Payment (making it easier
to obtain judgments on uncontested claims by providing a uniform
EU wide procedure and ensuring that these judgments will be automatically
recognised throughout the EU) and (2) at the same Council banking
the significant progress made during our Presidency towards the
creation of a European small claims procedure (making it easier
for consumers to resolve small claims arising in other EU countries
using a simpler, faster and cheaper procedure).
We held a conference on contract law, which
was the first coming together of the two networks established
by the European Commission to oversee the academic work it had
commissioned on a common frame of reference for European contract
law (the network of Member States' experts and the stakeholders'
network) with political representatives at the national and European
levels and the Commission.
The exercise of establishing a common frame
of reference is intended to help improve the quality of the acquis:
if there is a common understanding of the underlying values, the
thought is that the body of Community law can be better drafted
and more effectively and evenly implemented.
We underlined to the conference that the foundation
of our civil law ambitions was the understanding that progress
must be built on mutual recognition and judicial co-operation.
We could see no need for, nor any discernible demand for, a common
code of European contract law, optional or otherwise. The clear
message from the conference to the Commission was that future
work on the common frame of reference should be directed towards
the improvement of the consumer acquis.
We and the Scottish Executive jointly hosted
a civil law conference in Edinburgh, to which I point as the positive
focus of the influence we sought to bring to European work in
the civil law field. At that conference, we had high quality presentations
and debate on a series of themes: family mediation and ADR, e-Justice,
the work of the Civil Judicial Network, stream-lined court processes
and the futurehow we can work together to make practical
solutions. We had the honour too to host the presentation by the
Commission and the Council of Europe of the inaugural award of
the Crystal Scales of Justice for innovative practice contributing
to the development of civil law. The award was won by an excellent
scheme run by the courts in the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal
of Rovaniemi in Finland. The ceremony suitably marked the occasion
of the European Day of Civil Justice.
The conference provided ample food for thought
concerning the appropriate future direction for civil judicial
co-operation in Europe beyond the Hague Programme. We want to
see that pursued in a suitable way. One possibility might be a
seminar on the subject, perhaps arranged by the Commission, though
plans for such an event have not yet been made.
I set out in the enclosed annex the stages reached
in the several dossiers which were ongoing at the outset of our
Presidency or begun during our Presidency.
I am pleased that we have been able to progress
Council business efficiently and to work closely with the Commission,
the European Parliament and the Council Secretariat.
13 January 2006
PROGRESS ON CIVIL JUSTICE DOSSIERS DURING
THE UK PRESIDENCY
agreed at December Council, followed by EP vote in favour. Only
recitals and standard forms remain to be completed by Austria.
support among Ministers at the JHA Informal for the dossier on
the basis of the principle of proportionality, and on the basis
that it will apply to cross-border cases. Definition of cross-border
remains to be settled for this dossier.
Council agreed in principle on six key issues: written procedure,
time limits for each stage of the procedure, use of communications
technology for hearings, no need to be represented by a lawyer,
costs should be proportionate, and there should be a review clause.
reading of the proposal completed in the Council Working Group
on 7 December.
revised Presidency text produced with Austria ahead of the transition.
European Parliament expects to present a draft report at the end
understanding on the text reached at the December Council on all
issues except for those of cross-border and subsidiarity.
opinion of the European Parliament is awaited.
Working Group completed its consideration of all the amendments
proposed by the European Parliament. There was a detailed debate
on the topic of defamation which was not confined to the specific
amendments proposed by the Parliament. This was a valuable discussion
that to a great extent exposed both the preferred positions of
Member States and also other positions which they might accept
in the event that their preferred positions were not adopted.
In particular it threw up a new proposal from Germany that appeared
to have a great initial support among Member States. No final
decisions were taken in the Group on this topic or on other contentious
successful six months began with final sign-off of the Committee's
opinion on international parental child abduction and the Schengen
system. The SIS/SIRENE Committee has now in turn asked the Commission
to work on specifications for additions to the system which would
help to prevent parental abduction of children. The General Questions
group will continue to take an interest in the progress of this
made on the civil justice financial perspectives for 2007-13,
with two debates in the working group. These revealed common concerns
amongst many Member States about Commission transparency and accountability
in setting of objectives and selection of civil justice projects
for funding. A fresh text reflecting many of these concerns should
issue very shortly.
negotiations on international carriage of goods in Vienna at end
November/beginning December went well. A Community/US/Japanese/Norwegian
paper on jurisdiction obtained general support from the plenary
and should protect the London courts' position on exclusive jurisdiction
agreements, including the ability to support these by issuing
injunctions against suing elsewhere.
anticipated European Court of Justice judgement on the Lugano
reference has still not appeared, and will now (when it emerges)
be for discussion during the Austrian Presidency.
there was no progress on Gibraltar, and the civil law dossiers
blocked by this obstacle remain blocked.
Under the UK Presidency the dossier has progressed
to cover several major areas of concern for the UK. In particular:
legal base of the proposed Council Regulation and Decision to
establish the Fundamental Rights Agency, including the legal base
for a Council Decision establishing the programme "Fundamental
Rights and Citizenship" as part of the Framework Programme
on Fundamental Rights and Justice 2007-13. The overall majority
of Member States is in favour of article 308 TEC as the main legal
base, while some accept the use of article 284 TEC as a complementary
reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Framework
Programme on Fundamental Rights and Justice 2007-13 will be reviewed
by the Commission to explain it is intended as a reference to
majority of Member States is in line with the UK position to limit
any third country remit to candidate countries (some Member States
suggesting to revisit this issue in five years).
is overall consensus that the Agency should avoid duplicating
other human rights bodies, especially the Council of Europe.
subject of the Agency's management structure has only been partly
covered and the group is waiting for a written version of the
counter-proposal by France (to which several Member States are
in favour). This issue is closely linked with that of the independence
of the Agency. From the discussions held so far, it is possible
to conclude that the overall majority of Member States, in line
with the UK, is concerned about the excessive influence of the
Commission in the management structure of the Agency (particularly
in the Management Board, Executive Board and the power to veto
co-operation agreements between the Agency and other human rights
bodies). However, it is not clear whether the UK could create
consensus around the idea of an Agency strongly influenced by
advisory role of the Agency under article 7 TEU has also been
tackled with many Member States opposing the inclusion of this
reference. However, it is possible that the Agency can be called
as "independent person" on the basis of article 7 TEU
even in the absence of a specific reference to this in its Regulation.
Commission proposes to merge the Network of Independent Experts
(NIE) with the Agency. This would be in line with the UK position
as long as the work of the NIE (internal monitoring of Member
States' compliance with human rights on behalf of the European
Parliament) is not absorbed in the Agency's tasks.
were able to hold only one working group during our Presidency
but we completed a full read through of the proposal and called
on Member States to provide written comments on the basis of which
we redrafted the text. This will now be discussed during the Austrian